Contacts and Scheduling on the Mac


Every business or business person has a few basic types of things they need to track. At the top of this list are contacts, appointments and tasks. Close behind these are correspondence, reference documents, inventory items and accounts (due, paid and outstanding). Fortunately there are many good and free or almost-free tools available to help with this, some of which come bundled with Mac OS and some available online. Chief among these are OS X’s built in Address Book and iCal, both of which synchronize well to mobile devices such as iPods and iPhones.

Address Book for Individual Contacts

The Address Book.app program has been part of Mac OS X since the very beginning, and is designed as a standalone program that also supports other programs, such as Mail.app, iChat and various fax programs. If you use OS X’s included email program, Mail.app’s “Message” window includes a simple “Add Sender to Address Book” command, whose shortcut is Command+Shift+Y. Opening the Address Book from the Applications folder, however, shows many more options, including the ability to keep track of birthdays, multiple physical addresses, web pages and photographs. With almost two dozen basic fields to choose from and the ability to have multiple entries per field, this provides a good foundation for most people, and other text can be entered and searched in the “Notes” section. Edit the default fields available for all new contacts in the Preferences for “Templates” or add individual fields as needed on a card-by-card basis from the Card menu “Add Field” pull-down.

Address Book Feeds Info to Other OS X Programs

Most fields in Address Book (AB) will pass information to other programs or provide interesting options directly from within AB itself. Clicking on an email, physical or web address, for example, gives the option to send an email, look up the address on a map, copy mailing-label information to the clipboard or go to the web page. There are also options such as “Search with Spotlight” and messaging options to use chat programs or create SMS messages quickly. These are basic to AB’s design as a central clearing house for contact information, which it can pass to other programs.
The list of programs that Address Book interacts with is fairly long, and it is relatively easy for programmers to add functionality so that a fax program might read fax numbers from the address book, or a chat program may have the option to open a new session, make a voice-over-IP phone call or send an SMS message. Among the built-in programs that read from Address Book are the following

  • Safari has the option to display web pages from AB
  • iCal can “subscribe” to a special “Birthdays” calendar from AB
  • iChat knows to check for chat accounts listed in AB
  • Mail reads from and checks incoming messages against AB
  • System preferences for Fax & Print will read fax numbers from AB
  • Address Book contacts can be synchronized to many devices through iTunes

Synchronize to Devices, Clouds or Servers

Beginning with Mac OS 10.5, Address Book can also synchronize to “cloud-based” services other than Apple’s own “Mobile Me.” These include Exchange 2007 servers run by Microsoft but, more importantly for most people, popular webmail providers such as Yahoo or GMail. If one has an internal OS X server at work, there is also an option to synchronize with a hosted address book, which can be accessed from multiple computers. Synchronization means that data is available from several places, and that changes made to a contact (or calendar) in one place are coordinated to all other places with synchronization.

One of the most common and practical ways to use synchronization does not involve a cloud at all, but takes advantage of iPods, iPhones and other devices. Apple’s iPhones and iPods can be set to synchronize a variety of programs with your device, including Address Book, iCal, Safari bookmarks, Mail.app notes, even iPhoto, podcasts, television shows, movies and music. To access these options from iTunes, make sure your device is connected, then click on it and explore tabs such as “Info,” “Photos” and “Music.”

If you have a non-Apple smartphone such as a Palm, Blackberry or Windows Mobile device, similar functionality is available. The free, included software that comes with these devices is not always the best. Sometimes it is simpler to go another route, either synchronizing to “the cloud” through Google or purchasing third-party programs such as MarkSpace’s “Missing Sync.” Older iPods may not support movies or photos, and entering data on the device obviously involves having an iPhone or iPod Touch for device data entry.

Use Smart Groups to Organize Contacts in OS X

When synchronizing contacts, calendars, podcasts, movies or photos with iTunes, one can choose to synchronize everything or just a few, through the judicious use of “groups,” playlists or albums. Although Address Book allows one to manually create groups and drag individual cards to them, a much more powerful technique is to create a “Smart Group” within Address Book. Smart groups are filters that can be used to select cards based on a criteria such as company, city or certain words in the “notes” field. The simplest technique is to create a smart group that looks for a keyword such as “relative” or “family” somewhere in the card, and automatically displays all cards that contain this word. Particularly useful words for such smart groups include: family, customer, vendor, household and the names of various schools and organizations. If you only want a few contacts on your iPhone for example, you might create a smart group called “iPhone” and then set iTunes to only synchronize that.

Other Uses of Groups and vCards

People often ask if it is possible to create email distribution lists from within Address Book without creating individual “cards” first. It is not. The basic unit for Address Book is the individual contact, and all groups are sets of contacts. If one wishes to create a distribution list in this way, the simplest way is to create a new contact card, mark it as a “Company” using that checkbox in AB and then paste the list of addresses in the “notes” field. When you want to send a mailing, simply find the card and copy the list of addresses from the “notes” field to your email “to” line.

Another excellent use of groups within the Address Book is the creation of simple directories for distribution, whether among families, workgroups or clubs. One or more cards may be selected and exported as a single “vCard,” which can then be distributed periodically. When doing this I suggest using a key word or phrase in the “notes” field, such as the year and name of the organization associated with this particular export. This makes the group easy to identify or augment using the “Smart Groups” feature in Address Book. The simpler and more descriptive this name, the better: “FV Garden Club 2010” would be a good example.

Individual or group vCards can also be uploaded to company web sites or sent as email attachments to business colleagues, which was their original purpose.

For Further Information

Help with Contacts and Scheduling in Your Business

In addition to the various ways that contacts and scheduling can work for individual Macs, there are a variety of ways to do this using Google Apps, OS X Server, FileMaker and other technologies as part of more customized data management and more complex business workflows. If you would be interested in looking at various ways to work with contacts and scheduling on your Mac, for your family or within your business, please consider contacting MacRory.com at (360) 666-7679.

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