October 24, 2008, 8:56 PM — One of the joys of the Mac community is that if you find something--a program, a method of doing something, what have you--there usually isn't a shortage of people willing to suggest alternatives. That same sort of "Hey, did you consider this?" spirit seems to be emerging in these early years of the iPhone platform as well.
Take my recent review of People, an iPhone application that looks up phone numbers and addresses for people who aren't among your Contacts. People is... all right--it works as advertised and it's free, so it's a perfectly acceptable people finder for your iPhone or iPod touch. But I noted some general interface flaws--specifically, no way of easily clearing search fields if you wanted to look another phone number and the inability to selectively purge recent searches.
One reader posting in our forums suggested giving WhitePages Mobile a try. Like People, this free app looks up names, addresses, and phone numbers from WhitePages.com. But in this case, the application is actually made by WhitePages.com, so you're going directly to the source. More important, WhitePages Mobile eliminates some of the interface quirks of People that I found particularly bothersome while expanding the app's searching capabilities.
As with People, you search for phone numbers on WhitePages Mobile by typing in a last name and a street address, city, or state. However, as you type in a location, WhitePages Mobile proposes city names that look like what you're typing, much in the same way that Google Mobile App offers suggested search terms as you type. So as you start typing in "San Francisco" to look up a phone number for that city, WhitePages Mobile offers you the option of tapping on San Diego, San Antonio, San Jose and other options that keep adjusting as you type. ("San Francisco," in fact appears by the time you type out san f. Tap on a suggestion and WhitePages Mobile fills the field, saving you typing time.'
Even better, each search field has a gray X at the far right of each entry. Tap that, and the field clears of any data. This saves you from having to repeatedly tap on the backspace button when you want to run another search, as you would have to do in People.
Once you have a search result, WhitePages Mobile functions much the same way as People does. Tap the phone number and, if you're using an iPhone, the phone will dial up the number. Tap the Create New Contact or Add Existing Contact to add the newly found name, number, and address to your address book. (Contacts never actually launches, so it's hard to tell at first that you've updated your contact list with this new data.) The WhitePages search results page also includes a map image showing a thumbnail of the address listed; tap that, and the Maps application launches.
WhitePages Mobile has a Recent Results page that stores your 20 most recent searches, five more than are stored on the Recents page People. Another key difference is that People's Clear button only lets you erase all recent searches, while WhitePages Mobile selectively deletes recent searches. Just tap Edit followed by the red minus sign next to any search result you wish to vanquish.
Search results that turn up work numbers are clearly labeled in WhitePages Mobile with a Work icon. What's more, the app offers a separate search function for businesses, either by a business name or category ("pizza," for example, if you want to look up all the pizza joints in a given town). Business search results are very location-specific--you'll only get listings for businesses in the city you enter, as opposed to the surrounding area, and WhitePages Mobile doesn't make use of the iPhone's location feature to say how close those businesses are to you.
One other limitation for WhitePages Mobile is that search results are limited to 30 listings--there's also no Web link to additional listings as there is with People. This is rarely a problem when you're looking up a person's number, but if you're conducting a business search--taxis in San Francisco, say--you'll only get a smattering of listings restricted to the first few letters of the alphabet.
That limitation aside, WhitePages Mobile does just about everything you could ask in a phone-based people finder--with a few flourishes that make it an extra useful addition to your mobile device.
WhitePages Mobile is compatible with any iPhone or iPod touch running the iPhone 2.x software update.
[Macworld.com executive editor Philip Michaels has looked up a lot of phone numbers and addresses the past couple days.]