Feature Friday: Phone Number Parsing

So it’s been about four weeks since I switched from a Nexus5 to an iPhone6. It’s going ok. I feel like someone who has spoken english their entire life and finds themselves living in a city where everyone speaks spanish. I can function but everything seems a bit off for me.

But there is one thing that is driving me crazy. On an Android, whenever I come across a phone number, in an email, a calendar event, a website, whatever, it’s clickable and I don’t need to cut and paste it into my phone app. On iOS it is almost always the case that when I come across a phone number, it is not clickable and I need to cut and paste it and I also find cutting and pasting much harder on an iPhone. The latter might well be “spanish vs english” but I am pretty sure the former is not.

I’m hoping that all of you iOS users out there can help me. I’m open to suggestions except that I can’t move from gmail to the native iOS mail app. I am totally reliant on gmail’s priority inbox feature and can’t operate without that. I would be happy to move my calendar from the native iOS calendar app to something that supports phone number parsing better.


Comments (Archived):

  1. Semil Shah

    Strange, but native mail app ands Mailbox highlight the phone number for me in emails on iOS. I hold down on the number longer and then it prompts the call.

    1. fredwilson

      i don’t use those apps. i use gmail on iOS. i don’t think i can move from gmail and i am totally reliant on priority inbox to filter out stuff that i don’t need or want to see

      1. kirklove

        What Semil said. Phone numbers parse nearly everywhere on iOS.But no dice in Gmail. They are most likely overriding it just to get you back to Android ๐Ÿ˜‰

        1. fredwilson

          they don’t work for me in the native calendar app either unless they are entered in a specific place which i haven’t figured out yet

          1. kirklove

            Ah, that sucks.

          2. kevinh

            Phone numbers work just fine in the Notes field on calendar entries… Sorry to hear your troubles

          3. fredwilson

            so they have to be entered into the Notes field to become clickable?

          4. Dale Allyn

            Fred, that’s where I always put the numbers, so found them to be clickable. I just looked, and if they’re part of the event title they are not clickable.

          5. zhenjl

            Notes or Location

          6. Chad Kruse

            For the calendar app, check out Sunrise if you haven’t already. Phone parsing works great.

          7. fredwilson

            i might do thati haven’t gotten great reviews from my USV colleagues who use Sunrise though they feel that its gotten worse recently

          8. Chad Kruse

            I’m decently happy with Sunrise (Mynd and Tempo are alternatives), but calendaring is the one core app I haven’t found the silver bullet for.Makes me wonder why we’re still using the calendaring paradigm to manage time in the first place. That paradigm was created when desktop was king!

          9. William Mougayar

            yup…Sunrise wasn’t syncing all events from my Google Calendar. I wasn’t able to trust it completely.

          10. John Revay

            Just read a bit in Ben Evans news letter re: new Google Calendar app for Android http://www.google.com/landi

          11. fredwilson

            I wish they would make this for iOS too

          12. John Revay

            New Google calendar app for driod…just popped up in my calendar feed, no mention of iOS

      2. Semil Shah

        I believe you’re using the old Gmail for iOS native app, which doesn’t parse. Try the new “Inbox” by Google, which does parse.

  2. William Mougayar

    Weird, I’m finding the opposite experience on my Android. Not all numbers are being parsed, whereas on the iPhone, it was more consistent, and the numbers turned blue and clickable after a short delay. I can’t pinpoint it at the App level, but as if the iPhone beat Android for me, on that one.

    1. feargallkenny

      yes big issues parsing out of PDFs in particular. I suppose that isn’t that surprising though

    2. Aaron Fyke

      I switch from years of iOS to Android about six months ago and I’d have to echo your comment William. Basic things, like a phone number listed as text in a calendar appointment (even using Samsung’s native calendar app, not Google’s) cannot be clicked. I have to attempt to cut and paste and that drives me batty.So, I wonder if it is an “app by app” experience. I’m not overjoyed with Samsung’s native apps (on the S5), but I often feel forced to use them.

    3. cfrerebeau

      I had exactly the same issue and I wasted a huge amount of time trying to get basic phone number parsing in the default Mail Android app, never been successful. It may have been an older version of Android or a UK vs US phone number format but it was very frustrating.

  3. Seth Godin

    I find that I don’t call people as much! The iPhone isn’t a very good phone, talking (even with a headset) is a strain for both sides, and yep, it’s hard to grab numbers.I don’t think Apple intentionally downgraded the phone experience, but I’m pretty sure that the design objectives never included, “make the best phone experience.” Because it’s not even close. If that were the goal, all sorts of data, features and UI would be dramatically improved to make it better at the phone thing…Hmmm, it’s probably no longer an option, but that might be a nice hardware niche aimed at old folks like us. A phone. A really really good phone.

    1. Chimpwithcans

      I’m selling my Nokia from the 90’s, if you’re interested Seth?

    2. Barry Nolan

      Have you tried Facetime Audio? Creepily crystal clear, and effectively free.

    3. JLM

      .Get the Samsung Mega “slab o’ cheese” phone. A phone for old eyes.JLM.

      1. JimHirshfield

        Ya gouda get it.

        1. JamesHRH

          Havarti got one!

          1. Chimpwithcans

            Plenty of holes in all of these puns

      2. Vasudev Ram

        Android is edam good.

    4. LE

      If you don’t “call people as much!” then you don’t need “A really really good phone.”.

  4. jason wright

    Frustrated Friday. Get the Nexus 6.I’m intrigued by the possibilities of Ara phone running Cyanogen.

    1. vruz

      Can’t wait for Ara.

    2. Vasudev Ram

      Has that been reported somewhere? Interesting if so.

      1. jason wright

        it’s what i’m going to do. i’m reporting it here first. it’s an avc scoop.

  5. vruz

    It’s not exactly phone number parsing, but that there’s a system GUI property of text view and text input fields that allows you to flag them as ‘phone’. So you only need to specify that attribute when you define a text and it just works.https://developer.android.c…Entering phone numbers as wellhttps://developer.android.c…I can’t understand how Apple overlooked something so basic. In a phone.

  6. Raja Bhatia

    Have you taken a look at Acompli – https://www.acompli.com. It is email and calendaring for power users and supports Google Apps, Gmail, Exchange, etc. It has it’s own version of Gmail’s priority inbox that works quite well.

    1. fredwilson

      hmmthat’s an interesting suggestioni will take a look

    2. JamesHRH

      They have a Q4 2014 state of the art mobile web presence ( always a good sign ).

  7. LaMarEstaba

    Fred – I’ve been using Inbox by Gmail on iOS for a little while now. It’s an incredibly fast way to process email, probably better than Priority Inbox. It can help you with phone numbers (I just tested it). I’m not seeing flawless integration with Calendar, and I do gripe a little about how it’s made for a right-handed person (which I am, but I tend to hold my phone in my left hand). Are you interested in getting an invite? Would that be [email protected]?

    1. fredwilson

      inbox is not available yet for google apps users, only gmail users

      1. William Mougayar

        Note that there’s a new version of Gmail 5.0 (for Android only) that looks a bit like Inbox. I downloaded the apk last week, and loving it. Much clearer and simplified UI. (and of course, there’s the new Calendar 5.0 too)http://www.androidpolice.co…

        1. Pete Griffiths

          Looking forward to new Calendar but I think that right now it’s Lollipop only.

          1. William Mougayar

            You are correct. I’m hoping they’ll make it available to 4.4 users.

          2. Pete Griffiths

            They will – it’s available on APK now and will be pushed.

          3. William Mougayar

            great. thx.

          4. William Mougayar

            I downloaded it and it’s great. Deleted Sunrise thereafter. Sorry Sunrise. I love those early apk’s.

          5. Pete Griffiths

            Thanks for the feedback! Didn’t install it yet.Btw re Oneplus OneIt’s amazing how the market soaks up phones. The volume is ridiculous for a new company.http://www.engadget.com/201

          6. ShanaC

            you like the new calendar that much?

          7. William Mougayar

            I like its clarity, simplicity & colors. A calendar app doesn’t need to be that complicated (for me at least).

    2. mikenolan99

      Any way to turn off threaded conversations in the IOS gMail app? I live in Gmail everywhere else but my iDevices… I can’t do threaded conversations…. Really… I seriously hate them with a burning passion.

      1. LaMarEstaba

        In the iOS Inbox by Gmail app? Not that I can tell. It’s funny though, that this comment surfaced for me in an email thread. ๐Ÿ™‚ It’ll show up as low priority, though, and you can archive all of your low priority stuff with one swipe to the right.

  8. Peter Gasca

    Funny, I was just thinking the other day how utterly impossible it has become to memorize 10 numbers for more than ten seconds. In grade school and high school, we had to, because if you met a girl and didn’t have a pen, you sure as hell weren’t going to forget it. Granted, it was really seven numbers back then. Anyway, I use the native mail app, which syncs well w my gmail account, and parsing numbers works most of the time. If the number doesn’t hyperlink, then I select and copy the number, and at the top am able to easily create a new contact or ad to an existing contact. It doesn’t bother me, but of course I have never used Android to compare. Unfortunately, I probably never will because of my iTunes, apps and shared iCloud account, etc. They have me fairly we wed to them. Hang in there, give it a little more time. Cheers.

    1. LE

      “Granted, it was really seven numbers back then.”Back when I went to grade school everyone shared one of 3 different localexchanges. So you really only had to memorize 5 things the local exchange (which was 1 chunk) and 4 digits.

  9. Christopher Herbert

    Wait, the iPhone makes phone calls?

  10. drmarasmith

    The inability to parse a number in gmail is annoying. Can’t we all just get along? You can put a number in Notes on the native cal app, hold and bring up the call box. (May not satisfy you as it feels like a cut an paste.) Thanks to those who shared other cal apps they like. So far I have been underwhelmed. Enjoy your weekend!

  11. jacopogio

    Come back to where you belong, Fred ! Your Android is waiting for you at home ! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  12. pointsnfigures

    Looks like someone has an opportunity to open source code an app that solves the problem.

  13. Jake D.

    If you’re married to Gmail app you’re going to be disappointed. Most of the other apps I’ve used handle numbers well. I tried to love the gmail app but in the end it just never felt full featured. The handling of offline mode was the biggest deal breaker (especially for nyc subways) in addition to the phone number and date parsing issues. I switched to Boxer and am really liking it. It’s the first legitimate alternative I’ve found.Also +1 for Sunrise

    1. fredwilson

      Yeah. The offline functionality sucks too.

    2. Pete Griffiths

      Move to LA. No subways.

  14. aminTorres

    Just tap and hold down over the phone number.

  15. sigmaalgebra

    Yes, phone number parsing and handling are important issues.But mostly I don’t want just to call phone numbers. Instead I regard handling phone numbers as a special case of important, common, routine, office work data handling. for, say, phone numbers, URLs, e-mail addresses, USPS addresses, names, titles, company names, and much more. E.g., when I call a phone number, typically I also want to know the person, title, company, etc. and to make a record that did call.For such data handling, my general approach is to use my favorite text editor (with macros it has and macros I can write), flat ASCII files, and a hierarchical file system (e.g., NTFS on Windows).So, I try to avoid using closed gadgets, tricky, proprietary file formats, etc. Broadly, effective handling of data directly within such sources is essentially hopeless. E.g., there is a wide variety of tasks, operations, etc. want to do with the data, e.g., from some editor macro I might have written in 10 minutes just this morning; and asking Apple, Android, Adobe, Microsoft, etc. for each little feature via click here, swipe there, etc. is hopeless.So, my favorite text editor of flat ASCII files is my favorite tool, and a closely related love is the hierarchical file system.For phone numbers, my computer has FAX modem card. Then, any software that can write just simple characters to the old serial port COM3 can dial a phone number. So, my solution is a little editor macro, DIAL. The macro is ~120 lines long, half comments; and I haven’t changed it at least 9 years.So, to call a phone number when editing a flat ASCII file in my favorite text editor, I type DIAL, and presto, the macro reads the line from the file, discards all characters other than 0-9, and, if the rest look like a phone number, sends the characters to the FAX modem card. Done.I don’t really want to click to dial a phone number because the data I would click on I wouldn’t have stored in an organized way. Instead, if the phone number is worth calling, then I want to keep some related records, yes, in a flat ASCII file. E.g., I will likely want a record of when I called, so I have an editor macro IDC, which abbreviates insert dated comment, that is, inserts a line such asModified at 07:54:28 on Friday, November 7th, 2014.Steve Jobs, etc. wanted to sell people onion choppers, carrot slicers, and garlic presses when they would be better off with just a French chef’s knife, a cutting board, and their hands.So, I might select text from a Web page, copy that to the system clipboard, have my text editor read the data from the clipboard, and then use the editor to get the data in some reasonably clean format, usually noting the URL of the source, etc.Or I might just have Firefox save a Web page and use my text editor, with some editor macros, to edit the HTML and extract desired data.So, say want to get rid of the HTML elements. So, save, say, this Web page as file T.HTM, edit that, use my macrosplitat <to split each line into two lines just before, that is, at, each ‘<‘. So, now each HTML element starts at the beginning of a line. Then on each line that starts with an HTML element, using a little global change command with a wild string, get rid of everything, the string, up to and including the end of the HTML element (which is usually on the same line), and leave the text. Use a macro to delete cases of multiple blank lines, and then find, right, Feature Friday: Phone Number ParsingSo it’s been about four weeks since I switched from a Nexus5 to an iPhone6. It’s going ok. I feel like someone who has spoken english their entire life and finds themselves living in a city where everyone speaks spanish. I can function but everything seems a bit off for me. So, can copy to the system clipboard text from HTML files, browser screens, PDF files, etc. and put that data into a flat ASCII file.Then I might use macro DIAL on the resulting flat ASCII file. The flat ASCII file with the phone number might be an e-mail message, background information on a person or company, etc.My single most important source of phone numbers to dial is my little system I call FACTS: It’s just a simple, flat ASCII file with some simple syntax that stores little facts that, if I had some genius memory, I would remember. So, the file has phone numbers, USPS addresses, e-mail addresses, URLs, user IDs, passwords, and little random notes that I might want to remember of enormous variety.The file was started ~9 nears ago and currently has ~50,000 lines of text, 1,562,332 characters, and 2,836 entries (easy to find using my favorite editor). So, that would be about2,836 / ( 9 * 365 ) = 0.863(arithmetic courtesy of my favorite text editor) entries per day. That’s all it takes to provide some genius memory for little facts!Yes, each entry has some keys; so, the file is a little key-value store. E.g., there is Fred’s posthttp://www.avc.com/a_vc/201…on the ROI of VC firms. So, that URL is one of the values, and the keys I selected are justFred Wilson Venture Capital Returns ROI AVCWorks great.What could Apple, Android, Microsoft, etc. do? First, the basic problem is old, the Tower of Babel. So, get the important data back to some syntax and semantics can do things with. E.g., put the data in flat ASCII files with some simple, obvious format easy for humans to read, search, edit, create, etc. and for humans to write software to do such things.Then let the user write little programs for whatever is important in their work.There may be something better, but for me, now, what I’m doing looks a lot more effective than trying to make use of some device from the imagination of Steve Jobs to make money from computer novices.Or, in simple terms, I don’t want just to click on a phone number and, instead, want that phone number to be with other related data and all in a form easy to handle as, right, a flat ASCII file.

    1. SubstrateUndertow

      Most of us don’t have the time or skill set required to support your approach.You are not the typical user and on the lighter side I think you are outperforming me on producing lengthy posts ๐Ÿ™‚

      1. sigmaalgebra

        Most of us don’t have the time or skill set required to support your approach.You may be over estimating what is required:E.g., using my favorite editor is generally easier than using Microsoft Word or Excel. And writing macrosfor my editor is easier than writing macros for Excel.I doubt that writing VBA to automate Word is easierthan writing macros for my editor.E.g., there are efforts to teach coding in gradeschool. Well, the students will have to type intosomething, and the editor I use is about the easiest thing there is to type code into. Usingan integrated development environment(IDE) is much more difficult.E.g., apparently there are 1+ trillion Web pageson the Internet. Well, nearly all of those werefrom people typing in HTML code, and a goodeditor is about the easiest thing to type into.For other means of entering the HTML, theyare likely also more difficult to use than aneditor although maybe more productive thanjust an editor.E.g., in at least two organizations, I’ve seen secretaries of no great special qualificationsquickly move from Selectric typewriters toa text editor and word processing program ina big hurry and quite successfully.That I do so much with my editor does not meanthat that editor is difficult to use.

        1. SubstrateUndertow

          You may be over estimating what is required:I think you may be underestimating the uniqueness of your own skill set ๐Ÿ™‚

  16. Andy

    suggest you consider Tempo AI as a calandar solution for IOS …I think you’ll be blown away by everything it does (including your click to call issue)

  17. markslater

    i don’t make phone calls anymore so i can’t help. If i am making a call – its either an emergency, a complete breakdown of a messaging abstract, or my mother.

    1. awaldstein

      You are not alone.# of calls I make unscheduled are very few.Still have loads of calls and skypes but these are sessions of work not check ins.In fact, I even email less and text more as the most used check in method. Even my doctor texts to me.No abusing any of these methods cross all of my populations seems more of the status quo.

    2. LE

      I want the “call my mom” app. You hit a button and it calls your mom to turf ping her and let her know that you will call her later.

  18. Teren Botham

    Too bad all first world problems for you,Fred

    1. fredwilson

      That’s very true. But they are problems for me.

      1. Teren Botham

        I bet your next problem would be this one ๐Ÿ™‚

        1. Teren Botham

          Hear this

        2. fredwilson

          Which one?

          1. Teren Botham

            this one. (sorry discus wouldn’t add the attachment when i tried before)

      2. LE

        I think it’s a design of human nature that people don’t look at how lucky they are in relation to others they look at how unlucky they are in relation to others.By “design of human nature” I mean that it’s a good thing and a benefit. If you woke up in the morning and were satisfied with what you had (because you compared yourself to the proverbial “children starving in Africa”) there would be less of a push to try and be any better or to achieve anything.. You’d think “wow I have it really good”. Yet people almost never do that.Last night I read some of Brad Feld’s blog (which I had never done) and picked up on some of his thoughts and struggles with depression. I knew Jerry had issues with depression but I didn’t know Brad did. After reading that I did feel really lucky. The lucky feeling probably isn’t going to last very long though.

  19. Dale Allyn

    Comment removed. Redundant and pre-coffee. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  20. Tom O'Keefe

    A little confused by this, only because my iPhone 5 (plan to upgrade to a 6 in the next month) generally grabs numbers automatically. With iOS 8, it now gives me the option to capture people’s full contact info from email, and parsing numbers from websites is not usually a problem. Know it may be trivial, but might be worth a call to Apple tech support or a quick visit to the Genius Bar to see if there’s a settings fix.

  21. Dan Epstein

    Fantastical handles phone numbers well for me on iOS.https://flexibits.com/fanta…Also great at translating plain text to Calendar data (e.g. “Lunch Meeting Monday at Jeff’s House” = Lunch Meeting, 12pm, Monday, Jeff’s House)

  22. Craig

    Phone numbers clickable from location box in iOS cal app. Also in emails on iOS mail app linked to gmail account, but not from the Gmail app (which does have overall better functionality.) So, doesn’t that mean it’s soemthing from the google side, not iPhone?

  23. vishal k gupta

    I’ve been an iOS user since the beginning. I’ve noticed something changed around the same time as 7.0 came out, before number parsing working much better.. It’s not something I can currently quantify, but I believe something changed on the OS level.

  24. Kassey

    Was it at Waton School when you spoke on the subject of “On Being A Contrarian” and said you would never use an iPhone because within few years Android would take 80% of the market and it’s where all the money would be made? Have you changed your view and why?

    1. fredwilson

      Yes I’ve changed my mind on this. I believe we have a global duopoly in mobile OS with iOS occupying the high end of the market and Android occupying the rest. The 80% prediction was right but the making all the money was wrong. So I want to be on both and the best way for me to do that is six months of the year on iOS and six months of the year on Android

  25. Raj Bahadur

    Excerpt from an article I stumbled uponWhy Andriod won’t help :-The problem with Android is really a problem of perception. People think that developing on the platform is inferior to iOS, that itโ€™s difficult to monetize, and that fragmentation is a huge pain. Whether or not this is actually true, perception is reality, so unless Google does a better job communicating its value proposition to developers (while minimizing functional weaknesses vis-a-vis iOS), these beliefs will hold true for a long time.Think about itโ€”when has Google really put its muscle into celebrating Android-only apps that make a lot of money? When has the company framed its opportunity around post-Gingerbread versions of the OS, rather than pushing its (mostly irrelevant) market share? When has it gone head-to-head against Apple to highlight its key differences? Sure, the company is making some efforts around unification via material design, but it lacks consistency in messaging as much as it has historically lacked consistency in products. And too many developers have already been burned to make the same mistake twice.

  26. Guest

    Fred, I feel bad! You ask a super simple question but the result is a stream of unrelated stupidity. I wish discus someone would make a solution for that!

  27. Guest

    Fred, I feel bad! You ask a simple question but the result is a stream of unrelated stupidity. I wish someone had an solution for that.

  28. Michael

    Fred, I feel bad! You ask a simple question but the result is a stream of unrelated stupidity. I wish discus had a solution for that.

  29. jamesmwicker

    The feature you describe is called “data detection” and it is very much a part of iOS. In fact, Apple actually has a patent on this feature and has even sued Samsung over it.The issue is that many apps just don’t take advantage of it, which is a shame because the API is very simple to use. I assume Android must force it on by default in most rendered text elements (just speculation, I’m an iOS developerโ€ฆ).

  30. abn

    Wait a minute Fred. You aren’t using the totally awesome Inbox app from Google for Gmail? Don’t tell me you didn’t get an invite :)All you have to do is touch it and hit call. Excuse me if I missed something Fred.Best,Amith

    1. fredwilson

      doesn’t work if you are using google apps emailonly works on gmail.com

      1. Shurtleff

        drives me nuts that new features are never available on google apps (ie the service you actually pay for…) fine to let admins control, ideally with a choice to auto enable.. but making apps users always wait is lame

  31. John Rhoads

    The only way I can get around this is to forward myself the email to bump it to the top of my inbox and then use another mail client to parse it. I too am uncomfortably hooked on priority inbox.Very interesting is that the Google inbox app parses numbers fine which suggests that the feature decay in gmail is planned… Imo anyway

  32. OurielOhayon

    Fred this feature seems something that is enabled by default in any apple made app and that any developer can enable too. Unfortunately not many do. Even google don’t do it and it drives me nuts too. For example in gmail.I don’t get why apple doesn’t enable it to all apps by default

  33. Juande SantanderVela

    It seems it has to do with the kind of UI views Google and other developers use. In normal text views you get the right behavior (phone, address, email parsing) for free, while in others is up to the developer to do that parsing. If you are heavily invested in Google apps, Android should suit you better.

  34. sfrancis

    All phone numbers are clickable for me. Maybe gmail disables that in their app on iOS. otherwise i don’t see why it wouldn’t work. Works in the html version of gmail on iOS … or any web page for that matter…

  35. deedub

    Fred, Are you missing the elemental ‘back’ button? I went to Android partly on your praise of it and have been super happy. I don’t think I can go back to the iphone until they get over it & add a back button.

  36. fredwilson

    i’m eyeing the Nexus6 and think i’ll be back on Android in early 2015

  37. JamesHRH

    I never liked Fred’d chances – he wants to go under the hood to much.iOS fandom requires loving the sausage & ignorance of the sausage processing.

  38. Chad Kruse

    FWIW, I recall having one or two of these potential “switching deal killers” when I came over from Android, but two years in I can’t for the life of me remember what they were.

  39. JimHirshfield


  40. Richard Lee

    are you using other apple devices or just using the iphone6 as a standalone during your experiment?

  41. Konstantine B

    Have you considered the OnePlus? Take a look at oneplus.net

  42. kenberger

    Just got my demo Nexus 6 and adore it.There couldn’t exist more of a kenberger phone today (ok maybe if it had a great watch to match, though that’s coming).Also features a formidable set of international LTE bands– something the iPhone 6 remains #1 in. AND bluetooth 4.1 that supports HD Voice (Onsip) over a BT headset. #phonelove

  43. Jeff Judge

    I’ll be interesting to see what you miss from the iPhone what you make the switch back. I bet you’ll be surprised.

  44. JimHirshfield

    Your not holding it right.

  45. kenberger

    Love the concept, little too vaporware for the moment. Company has a lot to prove, early defects exist, you need an invite to buy it, etc.But give this just a year or 2 and someone like them and/or XiaoMi will steal some serious Samsung lunch.

  46. ErikSchwartz

    I have one. It’s a great phone.

  47. LE

    This is why every comedian needs a side kick. Nice dovetail.