The number of dialers for the iPhone give a pretty good indication that this is functionality that needs to be built in. Last week we took at look at one clever dialer; here's another. The Dial 9 visual dialer [App Store link] has a nice GUI and a couple of clever features, all for a reasonable $2.99US price.
This dialer keeps track of who you dial, and what numbers you use, and offers you those smart choices when you are ready to contact someone. Dial 9 will automatically import any images that are associated with your contacts, and I was glad to see when I updated a contact with a picture after I installed Dial 9, the app picked up on that without any intervention from me.
When you tap on a contact, you can call them at any number they use, send an SMS, send an email, view the contact or edit it if you like, and show a map of where the contact is. The map is just a link to the maps app on your phone, and once you select that you have to navigate back to Dial 9 from the home screen (a limitation of the current iPhone software).
You can arrange the icons however you like, or have the app arrange them. You can display a first name, first and last, or just images, and can change the background colors, or have different themes for different pages.
This is far from the only dialer for the iPhone. I counted 22 in the store, last time I checked. Faces Visual Dialer is another option at $0.99 (on sale) that has similar capabilities. You'll find free dialers and pay dialers. Other apps mimic old style rotary dialers such as this one, and this one, while others support speech recognition like the AdelaVoice Dialer and VoiceBox Dialer (this isn't meant to be a comprehensive list, just some samples).
I liked Dial 9. It looked nice, and had plenty of functionality. Help files are included and it worked as expected. The only downside of this app, and many that are similar, is that loading time is too long. It takes about 6 seconds to launch, likely because it is updating my contact list and loading images. 6 seconds isn't an eternity, but it can seem like one when you are ready to call someone. It doesn't really save you any screen tapping -- if I use the iPhone contacts, or Dial 9, I am 3 clicks away from dialing in either case. It does save scrolling time though, if your contact list is large and your frequently called contacts are few. That's my situation... I guess I need more good friends.
Here's a link to a video if you want to see how it all works.