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5 Covert and Productive Features in the OS X Contacts App

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The OS X Contacts app has been around a while, though it was just renamed (the title was "Address Book" in version 6.0 and prior). In all this time, many features have been added, but most users wouldn’t notice — they just use the app like normal. As your lunch break comes around, I’d like to take a few minutes out of your day to give you a tour of the features you’ve been missing in Contacts.


1. Connect a Contact to a Twitter Account

IOS Twitter integration on an iPad.
IOS Twitter integration on an iPad.

Twitter integration came to OS X with the release of Mountain Lion. Apple didn’t start its partnership with the 140-character network just then though. In October 2011, Apple first brought the social network to its products, starting with iOS 6. Twitter sharing was added to the Photos app, to Safari, and in other areas of the operating system. It added a nice sense of social connection to the OS that wasn’t there before. One of the most important elements, however, was the Contacts integration.

In iOS, you can go to the Settings app, navigate to the Twitter section, then tap "Update Contacts" and the OS will automatically use the email addresses of your current contacts to attach Twitter usernames and a new profile picture to the contact page. In Mountain Lion, you can do the same thing. Here’s how:

Updating the contacts.
Updating the contacts.
  1. Go to System Preferences
  2. Click Mail, Contacts & Calendars
  3. Add your Twitter account if you haven’t already
  4. Click the Update Contacts… button and wait for the process to complete
  5. If anything is added, you’ll see a confirmation message at the bottom of the screen saying “Updated [number] contacts”
  6. Go to the Contacts app and check various entries to ensure your modifications have taken affect
The Twitter options.
The Twitter options.

You can now go to any card that has a Twitter username and click the Twitter button beside it to Tweet that person or view his Tweets in the browser. Nifty, eh?


2. Add More Info to a Contact

Editing the card of one Mr. Guay.
Editing the card of one Mr. Guay.

Every contact card can be modified, and when that Edit button is pressed, more than just one field appears. Let’s go over what each of them can do.

  • Name: Put the person’s first and last name here.
  • Company: If the contact is a figure at a company, put the name of it here. You can also check the Company box to change the entire card into one of the company. The first and last name will move to the company line.
  • Phone: Put any type of telephone number you have from the person here. When clicked, a menu will show up with options: show the number in large type (taking up the entire width of the screen), send a message to the number using iMessage, FaceTime the number, and others that may be added from third-party apps, like Skype or Adium. These options do not change if the number is a different type (fax, pager, etc.).
  • Email: Add any emails here. You can then change the type from home to work or make a custom one. Clicking one of these will bring up the following options: send a letter to the email using the default mail client, FaceTime the person, send a message to the address with iMessage, send the person your contact card, and search for the email address in Spotlight.
  • Home Page: Add the person’s Web site here. So long as the URL is the correct format, it’ll be clickable.
  • Instant Messaging: Type the person’s username for any of the networks on this list. They include AIM, Facebook (short URL), Gadu-Gadu, Google Talk, ICQ, Jabber, MSN, QQ, Skype, and Yahoo. You can click these usernames and use your IM client (Adium, for example) to chat with the person.
  • Social Networks: You can add a Facebook, Flickr, LinkedIn, MySpace, Sina Weibo, or Twitter account here. It must be a username, not a link. If it’s the latter, it’ll just be clickable like the home page entry and won’t be of any use. A Facebook username will have View Profile and View Photos buttons; a Flickr a View Photostream button; a LinkedIn a View Profile button; and so on.
  • Physical Address: If you know the physical address of the person whose card you’re editing, type it in here. You can change the format by clicking home, hovering over the Change Address Format menu and scrolling until you find the country you are seeking. If you need to change it to a different country by default, go to the General tab of Preferences and select the nation from the Address Format drop-down menu.
  • Notes: This is the field where you can put anything you want. If it’s a note about how long you’ve known a person, include it here. If it’s something important about them, this is the place to write it down.

Tip: Click the Card menu and hit Show Last Name Before First to switch things up. You can set this as default in the General tab of the Preferences window.

Custom Fields

Adding some custom chrome to the stock trim.
Adding some custom chrome to the stock trim.

Now that you’ve been briefed on the basics of what each field does, start exploring the boundaries. Hidden in the Card menu is an option that lets you add a bunch more fields. Here’s what they do:

  • Phonetic First/Last Name: If someone’s name is foreign, put it here with their English one on the first line.
  • Prefix, Middle Name, Suffix, Nickname, and Maiden Name: Someone has a title? Add the Prefix field and type it in. The same goes for their middle name, suffix, and even their nickname. If that person is now married, throw in a maiden name field to keep the records straight.
  • Job Title and Department: If you already included the name of the person’s company, why not add his job title too? And while you’re at it, the department might really matter.
  • Birthday and Date: So you know a lot about this person, do you? Put their full birthday in there too then. It’ll even be added to your Calendar, so don’t forget. If they’re married, go for two with an anniversary in the Date field.
  • Related Name: He knows her, or she knows some other guy who knows his mother. Whatever the case, there’s a field for it. Add a friend, family member, manager, or even a pastor here.

Go Overboard with the Template Editor

If you really want to customize things to your liking without going through every entry and when adding fields, just open up the Template Editor (Preferences > Template). In there you can add whatever fields you wish to have and decorate your contacts to your heart’s desire. From now on, every contact will use the format that you create here. Of course, when you’re finished and find that there’s a little something wrong, just click the - button to remove that field.


3. Search for Someone in Spotlight

Browsing a mini card in Spotlight.
Browsing a mini card in Spotlight.

After hitting your brain hard with as much information as I just did, it’s time to make things concise. Of course, that’s the only way to make things since it’s a very simple feature.

Did you know that you can open Spotlight (Command+Space) and search for a person? Well, you can. Try it and then hover over that person to reveal a quick contact of sorts. Click it to open the full card.

4. Sync Contacts with Email Provider or Facebook

Okay you’ve had your break — let’s transition back to a more long-form feature. You probably have a social networking account, whether it’s Facebook or Twitter. If not, then you can skip over this one, or go create an account at one of the aforementioned networks.

Say you’re just setting up your Mac and there are a lot of contacts stuck in your email provider’s servers. “Drat,” you think. “I will never be able to get those converted to the right format for my Mac’s Contacts. I may as well just go add them all manually — one by one, typing away.”

Not to worry, there’s a much easier way. OS X supports contact syncing for iCloud (obviously), Facebook, Microsoft Exchange, Gmail, and Yahoo accounts. It also lets you add CardDAV and LDAP accounts, which you’ve only heard of if you have one, in which case you can add it in Preferences > Accounts.

For the basics on syncing contacts with such services, head over to Paula DuPont’s tutorial on the subject.


5. Add/Change a Picture

Repainting the nice-looking ruler.
Repainting the nice-looking ruler.

Before we end, it’s time to give your contacts a makeover. You can add a custom photograph to each card by simply clicking the present one and browsing for a new one. Even better, give the bloke the appearance of a well-trimmed parrot. Or you can go for the fortune cookie look. These are both default photos that come with your Mac, so have fun exploring.


What Did We Miss?

Those are five fun things for you to experiment with in Contacts. I’m sure you’ve had time to explore the app as well, so tell us what you’ve found in your experience. Thanks for reading!

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