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Custom labeling out of order in Snow Leopard Address Book

Address Book's custom labels may appear out of any logical order. Though this should not affect the program's functions, it may be a bit confusing for some people.

When using Address Book to manage contacts, one of its useful features is to be able to add custom labels to the various contact fields. For instance, instead of being limited to "Work," "Home," and "Mobile" as the names for phone numbers, you can add "Emergency," "Vacation house," or even "Space shuttle" as the name for a contact's phone number.

This functionality is working in Snow Leopard, but there appears to be a bug with the ordering of these items, which results in an apparently random listing of custom names. Recently MacFixIt reader David wrote in describing the issue:

Address Book Custom Labels
Custom labels will appear in logical order in "edit" mode, but when saved the order will be jumbled (click for larger view).

If I make custom names for my numbers in either the template or an individual address, I see a random order when I view the Address Book card....There appears to be no sense to the random order that appears. They are neither sorted by length, alphabet, nor number. If I then sync this to my iPhone they appear in yet a third variation.

The behavior is very easy to replicate; just go to Address Book and create a new contact. Then edit the contact's information and change the default "Work" and "Mobile" labels (or any other labels) to a custom name. Do this several times (preferably in sequence in alphabetical order to better see the effect) and the numbers should be presented in the order they were added. If you then save the vCard by exiting "Edit" mode, the ordering of the numbers will be different.

The label menu shows the same jumbled ordering.

It appears this bug may have been introduced or reintroduced in one of the Snow Leopard releases. In testing this problem, it happens both in OS X 10.6.4 and 10.6.5, but does not happen in OS X 10.5 Leopard. However, David mentioned having seen it since Tiger.

The only logic to the ordering is that it is the same as the ordering of custom labels in the label menu, which suggests the ordering is being obtained from a single source. This bug may be with how Address Book is storing custom label information in the Address Book database file, or with how it is reading items from the file. Unfortunately, there does not appear to be a way to modify how Address Book handles the labels in its database, and therefore waiting for an Address Book update from Apple is the only way to fix this issue.

Overall this is not a major bug and appears to be just a cosmetic issue, but it may cause some confusion for a few people. The entered numbers and contact information should still be accessible through other applications, and the proper entries are retrieved by these applications upon demand.

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