Evernote Hello is a fine example of a really good idea that, when executed, doesn't work at all well. In concept, Hello is brilliant. Who doesn't have a problem with remembering names, especially when you're at a party or work function and being introduced to a half-dozen people simultaneously?
As I said, it's a really good idea, and the execution is almost perfect. However, Hello doesn't seem to have seen much real-world testing. While this seems like a perfect app for folks working in IT and meeting lots of people for business, it has a lot of problems that need to be sorted out first.
First Impressions of Hello
Let's start with the good. Evernote Hello is easy to set up and use. Assuming you already have an Evernote account, it should take less than two minutes to download the iOS app and get it set up. The UI is pleasing, and the idea of "encounters" is interesting. I like the idea of being able to browse through faces and find someone's name.
Once you have someone's contact information, it's relatively easy to put them into the iOS contacts. Unfortunately, this appears to be a one-way street. If you update the contact information in iOS contacts, it doesn't sync into the Evernote Hello database.
Worse, Evernote seems to have forgotten that you may have met people before the company was kind enough to grace us with Hello. There's no feature to import existing contacts into Hello. Ugh.
Hello has a few other problems that are more minor, and will likely be sorted out before too long. First and foremost, the Evernote desktop client can't edit Hello notes. After I'd created a sample contact with Hello, I checked it out in the Mac OS X desktop client and the Web client. At least for now, you can only edit contact info via the iOS app.
There's also the small matter of Evernote Hello only working on iOS for now. I'm pretty sure that they'll port this to other platforms, but it's fairly limiting having it only on iOS.
Then there's the whole "hand over your phone to a stranger" thing. You may be comfortable with this, but plenty of folks are not. Luckily it's not entirely necessary, you can use Hello with the back-facing camera but then there's little difference between using Hello to enter contact information and using the built-in contact app.
For a first release, though, the Evernote folks have made a pretty nice little app. Except for the fatal flaw.
Here's the big problem with Hello: It's completely awkward for any social encounter where you're meeting two or more new people at the same time.
In a one-on-one situation, where both people are using Hello, I suppose that the "let's pause while we tap on each other's phones and take photos" situation would be OK. I could see sitting down with someone before an interview and gathering contact information.
Except, it's pretty rare that I meet just one person in a controlled situation like that. And pre-arranged meetings are the ones where I rarely have problems remembering the other party's name.
The problem that Hello purports to solve is one of forgetting people's names. This happens to me when I meet people at trade shows and parties, and it's usually in a group or a stream of people. You know the situation – you walk into a room and get introduced to 12 people who all know each other, and the names are one big blur. "Hey, let me introduce you to AbbyBillMartinBillPamDavidSethandBill."
Trying to capture three, four or ten new people into Hello in the situations where you really need it will bring any social or work encounter to a screeching halt.
Hello strikes me as a slightly less geeky (and much less security conscious) version of a key signing party. If you've never been to one, a key signing party is an opportunity for folks to get together and verify identities before "signing" each other's GPG keys. This helps create a "web of trust." You may not have met me, for example, but if three people you do know have signed my GPG key – then you have a higher confidence that I'm who I say I am and my key is valid.
It probably sounds like a great idea to the Sheldon Coopers of the world. But for non-technophiles, a new exchanging-of-the-iPhones ritual isn't going to win friends and influence people. On the plus side, I suppose, people will have no problem remembering your name if you're the one who busts out a phone to take their picture.
Any app that is going to "solve" the problem that Hello tries to solve needs to be as easy as exchanging a business card. Passing around smartphones and entering data is a step backwards, not forwards.
How Hello Could be Saved
iPhones and Android devices are an excellent example of how progress sometimes takes a step backwards. For all the power and glory of iOS and Android, they neglect one simple function that the Palm devices got right in the 90s. With a Palm PDA, you could walk up to someone at an event, and "beam" your contact info to them and vice-versa. In a matter of seconds, you'd have their details saved for posterity. For all the advantages of iPhones and Android phones over Palm PDAs, they neglected this simple (yet vital) feature.
If Evernote Hello allowed users to do the same thing with a pre-made business card, then beam via Bluetooth, Hello would be a rousing success. It wouldn't be the first, but Evernote could do pretty well here.
Where (I Hope) Evernote is Going with This
My guess, or perhaps my hope, is that Evernote is using Hello as a prelude to adding contact management features into Evernote.
Evernote is a great general purpose tool for storing away information. It can be pressed into service as a tool for contact management, but it's not designed for that. I'd love it if Evernote would extend the desktop, Web and mobile clients to better handle contact management.
Hello is a good first step in that direction, but Evernote needs to make Hello as easy to use as exchanging business cards or beaming contact information. As implemented, Hello is an app that most people aren't going to use.
(Credit where credit is due, the headline was inspired by my friend Jason Perlow.)