A deep dive on Mac Contacts?

Thank you for providing such a great service for so many years! I would like to pitch an idea for an article to you. Your contact us page says I should contact @ace, so here it goes:

I would appreciate a deep-dive on the state of the contacts app on mac and ios devices. So far as I can tell, the situation is abysmal. I use Fastmail for both my work and personal contacts, calendars and email. Fastmail has a pretty good reputation, and the service has been reliable.

But the contacts app is a real pain to use, and, as far as I can tell, there is still no good way to share contacts. Even on this forum, you can find numeous people asking about sharing contacts within their family. Usually, the answer is to create a unique apple id that is used by everyone in the family to “share” contacts.

That’s basically what I have settled on in my organization: the only way we have figured out how to “share” contacts even somewhat reliably is to give every employee access to an account that we all share. But… Fastmail already has a global addressbook built in to our account! Why can’t we all just login to our own accounts and share contacts in our global addressbook?

I just ran a little test, and I’d like to gripe about it before I’m done: when you add multiple addressbooks from different accounts, both Macos and iOS automagically merges contacts it thinks are the same into one contact entry. That makes sense. It is also nice that you can swipe down and see that the single contact you’re looking at was created by multiple “linked contacts”. So far so good.

But what if you tap that “edit” button? Oh man. I tried that on my iphone and added a note with a contact that was being provided by two separate accounts. I tapped “save”. Here are the results:

  1. Everything looks great on my phone. My phone tells me there are two linked contacts on my phone, but it doesn’t indicate which linked contact the note was added to.

  2. When I tap on each “linked contact” on my phone, the new note appears in both places. That’s not ideal, perhaps, since it could lead to a lot of duplication. But it’s probably the best I could hope for without it prompting me further.

  3. When I log into Fastmail, the note has been added to one of the accounts but not the other. Yikes.

  4. When I pull up the contacts app on my MacBook Pro, there are now two entries for that contact instead of just one. One of the entries has the note, the other one doesn’t. The further plot twist is that the entry that does not have the note still says that it is made up of two linked cards. The entry with the note gives no indication as to which account it is coming from. To find that out, I have to click around on the left sidebar and filter to see whether it shows up or not.

So, as I say, the situation is abysmal. I genuinely do not understand why the situation is so awful in 2024. For goodness sake, Apple is going to release $3,000 VR googles this year! Can we please have sensible contact management?


I should add that I submitted this request to Joe Kissell at Take Control Books, and he responded very promptly that they would not be doing a Take Control book about the Contacts app because it’s a terrible app that doesn’t do what everyone wants (or thinks) it should do!

Bit of a bummer, but very relieving to know that I’m not just going crazy!

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You raise a lot of good points about Contacts issues. As “a prisoner falls in love with his chains”, I guess I got used to some of the lame behavior. And I can add a few more things to your list, too :-)

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This doesn’t solve the overall issue (with which I agree), but there is a shortcut for this particular one. If you press the option key, the sidebar will highlight the groups that the contact is in.

I’m also very frustrated with Contacts but my focus is on limitations in the way it syncs to other cloud-based services such as Google Contacts.

For example, if a birthday is added or changed on a Google Contact that has already synchronized at least once with iOS or macOS Contacts, this change is NOT synced to either Apple device.

Huh, go figure. Contacts works perfectly for me and I like the straightforward interaction design. Have you looked at CardHop as an alternative? It sounds like you’re looking for more of a directory service and it might suit you better.

Phew! Yeah, I’m no fan of Contacts either. I mostly use Cardhop.

It does sound like what you want is a directory service, though—the kind of thing that an organization would standardize on using Microsoft Exchange or the like.

My sense is that’s overkill for smaller organizations (and certainly for families), which is why the additional iCloud account tends to be the solution.

I’d be curious if there’s anything in between the shared iCloud account and a full Exchange setup. It’s not something I’ve had a need for, so I know little about the field.

I’ve heard of Microsoft Exchange, but I have always assumed that it did basically the same thing as what Fastmail provides: a global addressbook for everyone in the organization. In addition to read/write access to your own addressbook, particular users can be granted either read-only or read/write access to the global addressbook.

Simple, right?

Thanks very much for taking the time to respond!

16 posts were split to a new topic: Google Contacts and CardDAV

Oh man. I would never even think about hosting my own cardDAV server! I’m looking to reduce my problems, not increase them! :slight_smile:

Years ago, I used and recommended Fruux. They are all-in on the open, DAV standards, which I find attractive. But when I moved my organization from Google to Fastmail, I didn’t need them anymore.

Really, I think the problem is pretty simple: The Apple contacts app simply doesn’t support what I want. And the whole operating system depends heavily on the contacts app for integration with mail, messages, etc. So even if you use cardhop or busycontacts, you can never get away from using the Apple contacts app on some level.

A deep dive into Contacts could be very interesting. Such a deep dive I think could reveal new horizons (if you don’t choke on the mixed metaphor).

On my system Activity Monitor reveals contactsd running almost constantly at about 50% cpu. Some other demons running frequently include suggestd, photoanalysisd, photolibraryd. My guess is these demons are analyzing my photos, contacts and probably other data, applying ML to search for patterns. For individuals who are listed in both Contacts and Photos, I suppose Contacts data could essentially be considered extended metadata for photos in Photos, and thus more grist for the ML mill.

For example, Photos can present a series of images of a person, in particular the person’s face. How doe that the appearance of that face vary over time? Information from Contacts can reveal other Persons whose changes in face appearance might be related. Information from Calendar can reveal health issues and treatments, as well as ages and life spans.

On your device Siri compiles your information. In the Cloud, health data from vast numbers of people is similarly analyzed, potentially revealing key indicators of various issues. Simplified versions of these key indicators can be downloaded, allowing your device to monitor your data for known indicators, and possibly suggest you consult a physician.

I suspect we will hear more about things of this sort at WWDC.

The above is all my speculation. Not speculation are Tim Cook’s remarks that improved health care will be Apple’s greatest accomplishment.

If you press the option key, the sidebar will highlight the groups that the contact is in.

Wow. Never knew this. Worth gold!

I might add that even though I have a “family” iCloud account for syncing contacts, I need to add any new contact to at least half of my devices because it doesn’t propagate.

I’ve taken to creating the new contact then exporting the card so I can put it on our shared iCloud directory to add to the other devices.


Sticking with (Mac/iOS) Contacts is handy for integration with Apple Maps. It would be even handier if this also worked for Carplay Maps (there is another discussion about this limitation).

Option key seems to have no such effect on my Contacts app. Using MacOS 14.4. Would love it if it worked!

The Option key has sometimes worked for me (macOS 11.7.10). What I noticed last time is that I needed to click on the contact’s card in the middle column. In other words, if I could add a note to the contact’s card, the Option key feature did not work. After I clicked on the same card’s entry in the middle column, it did work. I just noticed this, so I don’t know if this would have made the feature work when it failed in the past.

[If someone would rephrase what I said in a better way and using correct terminology, (perhaps “focus”?) I would appreciate it.]

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