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How to use the hidden power of Apple’s Contacts app to improve your iPhone


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Apple’s Contacts app doesn’t sound like the most important part of iOSbut behind the scenes, it powers a huge amount of what makes iPhones useful.

It’s true that you literally don’t need Apple’s Contacts app. Not because there are third-party alternatives like Cardhopand not even because – for historical reasons – the Phone app duplicates its features.

You can delete the Contacts app, and if you did that now — as well as delete the Phone app too — you’d still have all your old contacts. They would be auto-completed as you went to message someone.

The Contacts app is so tucked away that you probably have a lot of email addresses of friends and colleagues that you don’t have saved in it. Apple Mail keeps the addresses of: previous recipients and they autocomplete as if they were in the Contacts app.

You have to add them to Contacts because if something goes wrong with Mail, or if something goes wrong when you go to a new one macyou could lose them.

So there’s an obvious reason to add them to Contacts, but there are also many more reasons to take the time to put Contacts to good use.

The thing to remember is that Apple’s Contacts app is just an editor, it’s the way you create, edit, or delete this information. The reason there are alternatives such as BusyContactsis that it doesn’t give you many features to edit.

But whether you’re using BusyContacts, Cardhop, or Apple’s own Contacts app, you’re really working with the same database. As with calendars, you can find several different apps that might suit you better than Apple’s, but they all use the same calendar database.

Only Contacts is so embedded in the heart of iOS that it powers dozens of Apple’s best features across the operating system.

Contacts looks simple, but each section gives you dozens of options to work through

It doesn’t matter if you never plan on buying them a cake, putting someone’s birthday for that person on your Contacts card has benefits.

The obvious one is that their birthday will show up in your calendar to begin with.

Be careful with this. Contacts only allow you to add the day and month of their birthday, and that should be enough, but it’s not quite.

It’s to know when to say happy birthday, but at some point it becomes a very important birthday. Sometimes you don’t remember, but currently Apple’s Contacts app takes a year, so maybe fill in today’s year or the year you met.

There have been times, and there have been apps, where you didn’t have to spend a year.

And whatever causes the omission, or whatever year you’re making up, you may find yourself notified of your mother-in-law’s “2nd birthday.”

That probably isn’t true, but if this is such an important birthday that you should have been there – and bought a present – the best thing to do is give her a call. And have flowers or pictures.

About iOS, iPadOSand macOS, if you entered someone’s birthday in your Contacts app, it will show on all your devices. And it will appear in every place it is possible to be in.

Like pictures. Go to Photos on your iPhone and tap the For you knob.

Your iPhone will automatically have a series of Memories albums. And yes, it has used Contacts to do it.

Not quite. There can be as many albums based on places you’ve visited as there are people’s ages.

But those of their age emerge at the right time of year.

call her name

Even if you don’t know many birthdays, you’ll benefit from the regular, regular information you put in Contacts. You have to put it in and you have to keep it up to date, but the smallest details help.

For example, if you have a name and cell phone number, you can say “Hey Siri, call Susan Hare.” Siri will then do it and ask you nothing because it sees from your contact database that you only know one person by that name.

And equally it can see that you only have one phone number. So he just calls that number.

There is also some extra intelligence here, which applies when there is some ambiguity. If you know two people named Susan Hare and you ask Siri to call her, he may know that you call her twice a day, and the other one hasn’t been since sixth grade.

However, you can save Siri some trouble and yourself a little bit of trouble by saying, “Hey Siri, call my sister.” Or you could if you’d taken a moment to specify “sister” in her contact card.

If she eventually calls you back too, you can have your iPhone play a different ringtone. Or you can, if you’ve set it up. You’ll never guess where.

Photos' Memories feature is powered by many things including your calendar and location, but it also pulls details from Contacts

Photos’ Memories feature is powered by many things including your calendar and location, but it also pulls details from Contacts

It’s not Apple’s prettiest app, and it would be nice if you could just click on a Contacts card to work on it. As it is, you need to find who you want to add details to and then click edit

At the very least, that means it’s unlikely you’ll ever accidentally edit a business card.

However, if you’re editing someone, and once you’ve entered their name, you’ll be presented with eight options by default. They include adding

  1. Cellphone number
  2. Email at home
  3. ringtone
  4. Text show
  5. Homepage of the website
  6. Birthday
  7. A second phone number
  8. Social media
  9. home address
  10. Remark

If it’s a business you’re entering data for, you can check a box to indicate it’s a business. And if the staff is from a company, you can add their company name next to theirs.

You can also select one of the home’s contact details and change it to work.

Some of these details vary depending on where you are located and what localization was done. For example, US users will be given the option for a zip code, where UK users will see “Postal Code” instead.

Dive into the options

With the exception of the Note field, the birthday, ringtone, and text tone, every other item has options. Click on the mobile number, and you will get 10 alternatives, from mobile to work fax.

You even get Apple Watch as an option, for those friends who prefer you call them on their separate Watch number.

Plus, there’s an 11th choice, the all-encompassing ‘Other’. And a 12th, ‘Adjusted’.

That is typical for each section. But if you take the time to fill in everything you know, you’ll get that information back when it’s most useful.

You can always go to the Contacts app to check a detail or make a call. But you can also see their name on the screen when they call you, for example.

Apple’s Contacts app looks simple at first, and then it can seem a bit of a chore when you see everything you can add and edit in it. But at the same time, it’s like this extra brain in your iPhone that gives you the information you need, when you need it.

There must still be people using old Rolodex card systems, but they probably don’t have a Mac yet.

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