When you think of Apple’s most intriguing applications, it’s unlikely Address Book springs to mind. It offers anything but the sexiness of an iLife or iWork application. However, thanks to its close ties to Apple’s Mail and iCal as well as your iOS devices, it’s actually one of the applications you use the most. Make the time you spend with it more productive with these tips and tricks.
1. Prune addresses for your iPhone or iPad
You know that you can sync your contacts to your iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad, but it’s likely that you don’t need to sync all of them. After all, do you really need everyone’s street address on your iPhone? Here’s a way to sync just the contacts you need to iOS devices.
I’ve found it helpful to sync only those contacts that have both an e-mail address and phone number to my iPhone. To do that, open Address Book, choose File -> New Smart Group, and in the sheet that appears, create two conditions: Email Is Set and Phone Is Set. From the pop-up menu at the top of the sheet choose All so the rule says Contains Cards Which Match All Of The Following Conditions. Click OK to dismiss the sheet and create the group.
You now have a smart group that contains just those contacts that have both an e-mail address and phone number. But you’re not done yet, because you can’t sync smart groups to iOS devices. Select all the contacts in the smart group. From the File menu choose New Group From Selection. This creates a standard (meaning, not smart) group from those contacts. In iTunes choose this new group you’ve created when you sync contacts to your iOS device.
2. Clean up your contacts
If you open Address Book and find multiple entries for the same contact, it’s time to put things in order. To do this, choose Card -> Look For Duplicates. Address Book will do exactly that and, after looking, produce a sheet that tells you how many duplicate cards and entries it’s found. By clicking the Merge button in that sheet, you can merge those duplicate cards and entries. Optionally you can also merge cards that have the same name but different information.
3. Use the right e-mail address at the right time
Suppose you work at a company where you’ve established a social relationship with a select number of coworkers. Because of that relationship you use their company e-mail address for business and their private address for off-hour activities. Address Book makes it easy for you to send messages to either address, depending on the occasion. It works this way.
Create a group that includes your work friends and call it something like Social Workers. Select that group and choose Edit -> Edit Distribution List. In the resulting Distribution List window you’ll see the selected group and the name of each member in the group. The column header next to the list of members names should read Email (if it doesn’t, click on the header and choose Email). Locate the private address for each member and click on it, so that it becomes bold. This makes it the default address to use when you send messages to this group. Click OK when you’re done.
Now choose the group that you normally use to contact these people for work matters (this may be All Contacts). Locate these same pals and click on their work e-mail addresses so that they too are in bold. This is now the default address for work correspondence.
When you wish to send a social invitation to this group of people, send it to the Social Workers group. The invitation will be sent to their private address rather than work address. Otherwise, select them from a work group.
You can use this same technique to configure default phone numbers and street addresses. Just select Phone or Address from the Email header in the Distribution List window.
4. Backup and share contacts
Address Book provides multiple ways to share and back up contacts. For example, if you wish to easily back up all your contacts, choose File -> Export -> Address Book Archive. This creates exactly what it suggests—a complete collection of your contacts, which can be imported into another copy of Address Book (the one on your laptop or work computer, for example) using the File -> Import command.
You can also easily copy single contacts, multiple contacts, and single and multiple groups of contacts. To do so, select them in Address Book and drag them to the Desktop. The item(s) will turn into vCard files, which are generally compatible with all of today’s contact management applications. (I say “generally” because some applications don’t support vCards that contain multiple contacts.)
5. Automatically send birthday greetings
Much as you love your friends, family, and associates, it’s easy to forget an important birthday. With the help of Address Book, Mail, and Automator, you need never again be caught short for a well-timed birthday wish.
Launch Address Book and choose Address Book -> Preferences. Click the Template entry at the top of the resulting window, click on the Add Field pop-up menu, and enable the Birthday option in the list that appears. Now work through your contacts. Click the Edit button at the bottom of each card and add birthdays as you go.
Launch Automator (found in /Applications/Utilities) and in the template sheet that appears select iCal Alarm and click the Choose button. Create a workflow that contains these actions: (under the Contacts heading) Find People With Birthdays and (under the Mail heading) Send Birthday Greetings. In the Find People With Birthdays action choose an appropriate time period—This Week, for example. In the Send Birthday Greetings action enter a birthday message—Best wishes to you. Have a wonderful birthday!, for example. If you like, enable the Random Image For Each Recipient option.
Save and name your workflow. When you do, iCal opens, creates an Automator calendar (if one doesn’t already exist), and creates your birthday greetings event. You can now move that event to an appropriate day and time—Monday at 9:00 AM, for example—as well as make it a repeating event. For instance, if your workflow looks for birthdays in the upcoming week, have the event repeat once a week.
Note that this is not the same calendar as iCal’s Birthdays calendar (an optional calendar that you switch on within iCal’s General preference). Any events generated by the workflow will be found in the Automator calendar, not the Birthdays calendar.
When the event is triggered, a new message is created in Apple’s Mail for each recipient, complete with a subject heading that reads Greetings from Yourname, a Dear Nameofrecipient greeting, the message you entered in the Send Birthday Greetings action, and the image selected in that same action. These messages are created as drafts. All you need to do is send them.
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Chris has covered technology and media since the latter days of the Reagan Administration. In addition to his journalistic endeavors, he's a professional musician in the San Francisco Bay Area.