Introducing Contacts

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In weeks past we’ve talked about configuring the Mail and Calendar applications. Without the third leg of this personal information trio—Contacts—using the first two could be a lonely proposition. In this lesson we’ll look at the cans and can’ts of Contacts.

Contacts was called Address Book in previous versions of the Mac OS, and that’s still its most descriptive name. What with its faux-leather border and stitched pages, it reminds you of something in which your parents might have added a new neighbor or business contact. But, old-school though it may look, it has more powerful features than its paper-and-glue counterpart.

Contacts overview

Now that you’ve had the chance to admire Contacts’ leather look, let’s peer beyond the obvious. Contacts is broken into three main sections—from left to right, groups, members of the selected group, and the card for the currently selected contact. For example, when you select All Contacts at the top of the group pane on the far left, you’ll see every contact that you have in the second pane. If you select one of those contacts, that person’s information appears in the third pane. (If you don’t see the group pane, choose View > Groups.)

Contacts in three-column view.

When you launch Contacts for the first time, what you see depends on whether you have an iCloud account and whether that account is configured for your Mac. If both are true, Contacts will include any contacts you’ve added on another iCloud-compatible device. If you’ve created any groups on such devices, they too will appear in Calendar. Such is the power of iCloud syncing.

If your new Mac is your first iCloud device or you haven’t set up your Mac to use iCloud, you’ll simply see an All My Contacts entry in the group pane and a whole lot of nothing to the right. No one should be this friendless. Let’s add a contact or two.

Creating contacts

Creating contacts is a cinch. Choose File > New Card (<Command>-N) or click the Plus (+) button at the bottom of the second column. The third column will display a series of empty fields, just ripe for the filling. Filling a field is just as easy. Click in the field and enter what information you want. Headings that include up-and-down pointing triangles indicate that a subset of selections is offered. For example, if you click on Mobile you’ll see that you can choose from a wide variety of phone types—mobile, iPhone, home, work, main, home fax, work fax, other fax, pager, other, and custom. When you click on Custom, you can create a label of your own.

When you enter information in one of these fields, another similar field within that category appears below. For instance, you’ve entered Chuck Dickens’ iPhone as 555-555-2345. As soon as you enter the first digit, another field appears below, ready for you to enter his home number. (Hint: You don’t have to format telephone numbers—555-555-2345, for example. Just cram all the numbers together, and Contacts will autoformat them as (555) 555-2345).

A contact card, ready for editing.

You can delete existing entries by clicking the Minus (–) button that appears next to them. When you’re finished with your work, click Done. Only those fields that have information in them will appear on the card.

The first card you should create is your own. This is important to do because other applications can access this card and put it to good use. For instance, they can autofill fields with your contact information rather than forcing you to do it manually. And once you’ve created this card you’ll find these helpful commands when you choose Card > Share My Card: Email My Card, Message My Card, and AirDrop My Card. When you’ve created such a card, click Done to save it, and then choose Card > Make This My Card.

Configuring contact fields

By default, Contacts includes fields you’d typically find in your standard-issue address book. First and last name, company name, phone, email, home page, chat ID, address, and note. If you’ve configured the Mail, Contacts & Calendars system preference to include Facebook, Twitter, Vimeo, and Flickr accounts, you’l find entries for them as well. But you’re not limited to just these entries.

Choose Card > Add Field, and you find more items that you can add to a contact card—phonetic first/last name, prefix, middle name, suffix, nickname, job title, department, maiden name, birthday, date, related name, and profile. For example, if you have a contact for which you pen a yearly holiday card, you might wish to make a note of the person’s family members. You do this by adding a related name. A new field appears from which you can choose mother, father, parent, brother, sister, child, friend, spouse, partner, assistant, manager, or other. And, if you like, you can click Custom and add “No idea, but they hang out a lot.”

You say it's their birthday? Add it to their contact card.

If you use one of these fields more often than not, I suggest you change the contact card’s template. To do that, choose Contacts > Preferences, click the Template tab, and then click the Add Field pop-up menu to add the fields you want. In this same window, you can choose which headings appear by default. For instance, Apple has chosen to show Mobile as the default heading for phones. You can select Work instead, and when you create a new card, Work is what will appear as the default phone heading.

Should you employ Contacts for personal use, you should add the Birthday field to the template. When you do this and then go to the trouble to add contacts’ birthdays, those important dates will automatically appear in the Calendar application when you enable its Birthday calendar.

The power behind headings

Some features are so delightful to discover that I almost feel like I’m spoiling the surprise by pointing them out to you. So I’ll be a bit vague here, and you can find out for yourself.

When you click a heading—Home, Work, Mobile, or the like—a menu will appear with a list of helpful commands related directly to the kind of information found in that field. For example, if you click Work in a phone field, you’ll see Show in Large Type (great for seeing phone numbers from across the room), Send Message, and FaceTime. Click other headings and see what you can find. (Hint: Need to map a contact’s street address? You’re in luck.)

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