Introducing Contacts

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Creating groups and smart groups

As I mentioned, Contacts has singular advantages over “real” address books. One is that you can create groups of contacts—your business associates, friends, family, bowling teammates, and political action committee members. To create a group, choose File > New Group (<Shift>-<Command>-N) and name your group. That group appears in the group pane.

To add members to your group, just select All Contacts, select the contacts you want to add to the group, and drag them in. They’ll continue to appear in All Contacts because, well, it includes all of your contacts. But they’ll also appear in the group. Should you delete someone from a group—because your sloshball team’s third baseman has concentrated on the slosh to the exclusion of the ball—that person remains in your All Contacts list. Delete them from All Contacts, and they’re truly gone.

Back in our Fall term, I described the workings of Smart Folders in the Finder. Contacts has its own smart technology, called Smart Groups. And the idea is similar. You set up a condition (or series of conditions) to gang together contacts that meet those conditions.

Let’s say you want to have a group that includes those people who live nearby. You could do this in a couple of ways.

Choose File > New Smart Group (<Command>-<Option>-N). In the sheet that appears, enter ‘Nearby’ in the name field. Click the first pop-up menu, and choose Zip. Configure the next pop-up menu to read Is, and then, in the field to the right, enter your zip code. Click OK, and a Nearby smart group will appear that contains contacts who live within your postal code.

You can do something similar with your phone number. In this case enter Phone Begins With and then enter your local area code. The only hitch here is that you’re searching an area broader than a postal code. Also, some people’s mobile phones use an area code that differs from the code currently assigned to where they live.

An area code smart group can show you nearby contacts.

You could also create a smart group that includes just those contacts that you want on your iPhone. For instance, you may wish to carry only those contacts who have a phone number and email address in their card. It’s easy to create a smart group that includes two conditions to make this happen: Phone is set and Email is set. Then choose to sync this group to your iPhone and leave the rest behind.

About distribution lists

You now know that you can create groups of contacts. Suppose that some of these contacts have multiple email addresses, physical addresses, and phone numbers. Suppose further that another application will automatically grab some of this information for its own use. For example, Mail will automatically insert Charlie Bucket’s work email address when you compose a message to him. Suppose one last time that, doggone-it, you want Mail to always use his home address. How do you set the default for other applications’ use?

Through the careful use of distribution lists. Choose Edit > Edit Distribution List, and a sheet will appear. On the left side is a list of your accounts with a triangle next to each. Click that triangle, and any groups in that account will appear. Select a group, and you’ll see the contacts within it.

Use a distribution list to choose a contact's default email address, phone number, or physical address.

When a contact includes multiple instances of an email address, phone number, or physical address, you’ll see one of these items in black—any other similar entries are in gray. To choose the default information that you’d like to use—a person’s work email address versus their personal address, for example—click on it. It will turn black, which tells you that it’s now the default.

Adding accounts

Services such as Yahoo and Google allow you to create contacts. And it’s likely that you’ll want to have those contacts appear within the Contacts application. For a Yahoo account, this is dead simple. When setting up such an account in the Mail, Contacts & Calendars system preference, just be sure to enable the Contacts option, and your Yahoo contacts will appear in Contacts.

Google is a bit trickier because there is no Contacts entry for Gmail accounts within Mail, Contacts & Calendars. It can still be done, however.

Within Contacts, choose Contacts > Preferences and click the Accounts tab. Select the On My Mac entry, and enable the Synchronize With Google option. In the sheet that appears, enter your Gmail name and password, and click OK. Contacts will now set about synchronizing with Google and import those contacts it has. If an On My Mac heading doesn’t appear once this synchronization takes place, quit and relaunch Contacts. You should now see such an entry along with an All On My Mac group below. An iCloud entry will appear above if you’ve already synced iCloud contacts.

In the case where you have the same contact in different accounts—one version in iCloud and another from Facebook, for example—Contacts will attempt to merge them. You can tell if a contact has been merged by the Cards entry in the contact. It will read something like Cards: On My Mac, iCloud.

Sharing contacts

The Contacts application, like just about every address book application on earth, supports the vCard standard. This is a common contact format that allows easy export and import of contact information.

A group vCard.

Exporting contacts is quite easy. One method is simply to drag a contact to the desktop, where it turns into a vCard file. (You can also select multiple contacts and drag them to the desktop, where all of the contacts will be combined into a single vCard file.) In addition, you can drag a group to the desktop to turn that group into a single vCard. Or, if you like, click on the Share icon at the bottom of a contact card. You’ll find such options as Email Card, Message Card, and AirDrop card. The resulting card will also be in the vCard format. And you can select contacts and choose File > Export > Export vCard.

Importing contacts works similarly. Grab a vCard and haul it into a list of contacts. Or drop the vCard on the Contacts icon in the dock. Or choose File > Import, navigate to the vCard, and click Open.

About printing

One feature that escapes even advanced users is the ability to print your contacts in useful ways. Select some contacts and choose File > Print. If you see a Show Details button at the bottom of the resulting window, click it. Click the Style pop-up menu in the now-expanded print window, and you discover that you can print mailing labels, envelopes, lists, and pages for a pocket address book. When choosing labels you’ll find the option to select a specific kind of label—Avery Standard, Avery A4, and Dymo.

Contacts is hardly the most complicated or comprehensive application bundled with the Mac, but it’s more than capable of dealing with basic contact management. If you’ve been tied to paper for years for fear of the complexity that a computer-based contact application might introduce, you can put that anxiety aside. Go forth and make contacts.

Next week: Remind me to tell you about Reminders.

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