10 steps to improve Contacts in OS X El Capitan

Get to know your Contacts better

Apple, OS X, El Capitan, Mac, Contacts
Credit: Apple

Suggested contacts

Mail in El Capitan detects when you receive new information for a contact, so you can update the contact card from inside the email app. It also identifies when new people make contact. You may find contact info in your Contacts application that, when opened, identifies itself as “found in Mail." (You can disable this feature in Contacts>Preferences>General and untick Show contacts found in Mail.)

Add fields

Fields in Contacts are quite useful. Launch Contacts Preferences and choose Template. Using the Add Field drop down menu lets you add fields (sic) to your Contacts. For example, Twitter handles for contacts aren’t enabled by default but you can change that, just select Twitter in the drop down list.


Two fields are particularly useful, “Nickname” and “Related Name." Enable either of these and you can define your relationship with contacts, or give them nicknames, “dentist," “doctor," “school,” for example. Once you’ve assigned roles or names to your key contacts, you can use Siri more effectively with your iOS device. You can now begin calls by saying, “Siri, call my brother” or “Siri, call my dentist." (You get even more out of this when using Maps and Location services with your contacts.)


You can even use Contacts in combination with Automator to automate sending birthday greetings by email. This is a useful project to get into in order to gain insight into how Automator can help you in other ways.


Organize your existing contacts into different groups using File>New Group. Create a name for the group and place appropriate contacts there. You can decide what the groups are for – friends, colleagues, on a per-project basis – essentially, the more you define your contacts, the easier it becomes to manage them.

But smart is better

You can also create Smart Groups. (File>New Smart Group). Here, you get to set up various parameters across the four search fields. You can also add additional search filters by pressing the + button to the right of these fields. You can use this to create groups that will automatically be updated, such as “Card contains Apple” or “Birthday is in the next 7 days.” Most users aren’t aware of smart groups, but it can really help when working on projects or within community groups.

Default Account

If contacts don’t seem to be updating properly across your Macs and devices, it is possible you have the wrong default account configured. Open Contacts Preferences>General and look for the lowest item in the list, “Default account." You should set this to iCloud, as this defined account is where new contacts will be added by default.

Remove duplicates

We’re drowning in a data deluge. Contacts books can become heavily clogged up by data we don’t really need, including duplicates of contact addresses (a particular problem if you use multiple devices and email accounts, like iCloud and Gmail). In Contacts choose Card>Look for Duplicates… Your Mac will identify any it can find and offer to merge the cards.


Duplicate contacts can be a problem when using multiple email accounts – when you look in the address book you may find two entries for the same person, one for your Gmail contacts and the other for iCloud, for example. To eliminate this, press Command select the cards and choose Card>Link Selected Cards from the Menu. Now you’ll only see the one listing.

Contacts Cleaner

Contacts Cleaner ($4.99, Mac App Store) is a great little tool to fix problems. It tells you about errors in your database, including duplicates addresses or bad phone numbers. It then offers to resolve problems for you and lets you edit records if you need to fix problems manually.

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