Most folks store a mish-mash of information in the Contacts app, and sometimes the information is not consistent or accurate. It’s not at all uncommon for a first name to appear in the field for last name, for phone numbers to lack an area code, for information about multiple people to appear on one contact card, or for information about one person to be scattered across multiple contact cards.
The best reason for cleaning up your Contacts is that it makes communicating with others much easier. It’s worth the effort and will relieve the frustration of, for example:
- Accidentally sending an important email to an invalid address.
- Using Siri to communicate with friends while driving.
- Dialing a number without an area code…and having it fail.
As is usually the case when working with the Contacts app, fiddling with contact data is easier on a Mac with a full-size keyboard and larger screen. Also, because iOS is newer than macOS, it lacks some features. For example, there is no built-in way to duplicate a contact card on an iOS device, and importing updated contact information in iOS is not as smooth as it is in macOS.
We’ll assume that you already know how to add a new contact card (hint: choose File > New Card) and how to add/edit information by clicking the Edit button and typing details into the appropriate areas.
Let’s dig in to some of the finer points.
Accuracy and Completeness
Take a run through your contact cards and add as much information for everyone as you can. For example:
- Do you have a first and last name for everyone?
- Do all the phone numbers have area codes?
- Are all email addresses properly formed? Do they have an @ sign and are there no typos, particularly with domains (e.g., .com and not .cmo)?
Fixing these little inaccuracies and closing up gaps in information makes a difference.
The Value of Labels
All the information about your contacts includes a label for that information. Labels can help you differentiate between a home phone number and a mobile phone number, between a birthday and an anniversary, and between a first name and a last name.
It pays to make sure the labels you assign accurately reflect the data. If you consistently put last names of your contacts into the area reserved for last names, your contacts will sort correctly. If you don’t correctly label your contacts’ phone numbers, you may end up calling the wrong number accidentally.
These are seemingly minor issues. But if you can reduce or eliminate these annoyances, it’s much easier to work with your Mac or iOS devices, and who’s not in favor of that?
Here’s how to edit labels:
- Select a contact card and click Edit.
- Click a label to show a pop-up menu of choices. Select the label you want.
- Alternatively, create your own label by choosing Custom and entering a custom label.
- Click Done.
Merging the Data on Contact Cards
There’s a good chance that you have duplicate data among your contact cards. If you’re an intrepid explorer of the menus in macOS apps, you might have run across this one in the Contacts app:
You might see a variety of responses to this command depending on how many duplicates are found and/or what data is duplicated:
When searching for duplicates, Contacts looks for an exact match in the name field(s) of contact cards. So, for example, Contacts will deem a contact card for Mary (your sister, with no last name) to be a duplicate of a different contact card for Mary (your aunt, also with no last name). You probably don’t want to merge the data on these two cards.
Also, if you have a contact card for John Appleseed and another one for Johnny Appleseed and they contain the exact same data other than their first name, Contacts does not treat them as duplicates.
If you decide to proceed after choosing Look for Duplicates, you can always choose Edit > Undo to revert to your earlier list of contacts in case you find problems after browsing through them.
Contacts doesn’t report exactly what it does when you click the Merge button and the merging of data cannot be done selectively. Unless you have a very limited number of contacts or know exactly what you’re going to get when you click Merge, I don’t recommend this as an option.
So does this mean that you have to re-type information from one contact card to another, then delete the one you don’t want?
You could do that, or pay someone to do it for you. But fortunately, there’s an intermediate solution.
Let’s go back to our example of John Appleseed. Somehow, you have two different contact cards for him—one in which he is called John Appleseed that contains his work information, and the other in which he is called Johnny Appleseed and contains his home address and home number.
Wouldn’t it be great if you could merge these two cards into one?
Well, guess what?
- Select the two cards you want, by clicking the first one and then command-clicking the second one. If you have more than two cards for the same person to be merged, command-click each additional card.
- Choose Card > Merge Selected Cards. The selected cards are merged into one.
If the card needs further editing, select it, click the Edit button, and make changes. In some cases, information that cannot be merged—in this case, Mr. Appleseed’s first name—appears under Notes.
One Card, One Person
In some cases, you might want to split the info on one contact card into two separate contact cards, or duplicate most of the info on a contact card to another. For example:
- You know someone at a company, and you want to add another person at that same company to your contacts. Often, these two people will share a lot of the same information, such as company name, main phone number, and physical address.
- You have a friend and her spouse’s info on the same contact card. They live in the same house, but they have different mobile phone numbers and email addresses.
- You want to share contact information about a friend of yours, but you don’t want to include information about your friend’s spouse.
In all of these cases, it’s better to separate the unique info that is stored on these contact cards while maintaining the common info. When addressing an email message, it’s going to be less cumbersome to have your Mac pick out the email address for the person you’re trying to reach, rather than pull up addresses for the person’s co-workers, spouses, and friends that are included in the person’s contact card.
Rather than re-type all this information, it’s easier to make a duplicate of an existing contact card.
Duplicating a Contact on your Mac
- Select the card you want to duplicate.
- Choose Edit > Copy.
- Choose Edit > Paste.
- Select either of the cards (since they are identical) and click Edit.
- Make your edits and click Done.
Behold the finished product.
Importing a Duplicate Card
Contact information can be stored in a standard file format called vCard, which makes it easy to share contact information whether you’re using a Mac, a PC, an iOS device, or other computing platforms. There may come a time when someone sends you a vCard with their contact information and you already have a card for him in your Contacts app. Maybe the contact info has some additions, maybe it has changes. It’s easy enough to let the Contacts app do the heavy lifting.
Let’s say George Washington sends you an email about a 4th of July party coming up at his Mt. Vernon Estate. He’s included as an attachment to the email his vCard, which contains his home address, and you already have The Father of Our Country in your Contacts app.
Here’s how to update George’s info in your Contacts app.
- Double-click the vCard you want to add to your Contacts app. (You can also drag it to an open Contacts window or to the Contacts icon in the Dock.)
- A sheet will appear in the Contacts app. Clicking the import button will import the information without a review. It’s best to review the information contained in the duplicate card and resolve any discrepancies that may exist. So, click Review Duplicate….
- In the sheet that appears, you’ll have the choice to keep the contact info you have (Keep Old), replace the contact info you have with the new info (Keep New), keep both the contact info you have and the new contact info in separate cards (Keep Both), or merge the contact info you have with the new info (Update). Click the Keep Both button to see the old and new info side-by-side.
- To merge the new information with the old, click the Update button then click Import.
And we get the updated card for George Washington:
If you’re importing a batch of vCards, you’ll be given the chance to resolve all duplicate vCards in the same way (say, by updating all of them), or you’ll be able to review them one-by-one.
Tidy Up your Contacts
Yes, it takes some work. Yes, it may require on-going maintenance, akin to hand-weeding a garden. But keeping your Contacts info ship-shape makes for smoother use of your Mac and iOS devices. What have you done with your contacts info to make it easier to communicate with others? Let me know in the comments section below.