Using Smart Contacts
The idea of creating groups of digital objects is as old as the Mac, but manual organisation can be time-consuming and inefficient. A cleverer method is to use so-called 'smart' collections, such as Smart Folders in Finder, Smart Playlists in iTunes, or Smart Mailboxes in Mail.
In the Contacts app, this idea is realised as Smart Groups. Rather than manually adding people to a group of contacts, Smart Groups are populated according to which of your contacts match conditions you specify.
Their contents even update as you change details stored about people. So, if you have a Smart Group based on a surname and add a new contact with that surname, that person will be added to the Smart Group automatically.
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In fact, Smart Groups can contain multiple conditions, each looking at different bits of information attached to your contacts. So, as well as someone's name, a Smart Group might check company names, the domain name of company websites, cities and much more.
Along with the aforementioned group that could be used for contacting family, you could create one based on a location, or for each of your contacts at a specific company.
This is particularly helpful in Mail. When you type a group's name in the To field and press Return, the group's name is replaced by the contacts in that group, which you can amend as appropriate for the message you're writing.
Using a Smart Group means there's less chance of someone being missed out, because the recipients will be based on current info stored in Contacts. Even within the Contacts app, Smart Groups can be useful for quickly working your way through a specific list of people you need to call or send something.
Smartly plug information gaps
In the walkthrough, we provide ideas for Smart Groups that can save you time. In some cases, we'll be working with the app's Note field, which allows you to add arbitrary information.
When doing so, try to be consistent. If you use this field to list people's children, say, don't prefix it with 'Children:' in some contacts and 'Kids:' in others, because you'll have to search for both in a Smart Group's conditions.
Also, to differentiate Smart Groups from normal ones, and to speed things along in Mail, consider adding a character to the start of every Smart Group's name, such as '@Surname' rather than plain old 'Surname'.
1. Get started
Ensure that the Groups sidebar is open (if it isn't, choose View > Show Groups or press Command + 1). You'll see existing groups from your iCloud account, below which will be the Smart Groups section only if you've already defined a Smart Group.
2. Create a Smart Group
Choose File > New Smart Group. In the sheet that appears, name the group, then use the controls below to select an attribute and specify a value, and how contacts must match the two in order to be included in the group.
3. Make complex matches
Click the + to the right of the rule to add an extra criterion. On doing so, a new pop-up menu appears above the list of criteria.
Use it to determine whether the Smart Group should match all or any (at least one) of your specified conditions.
4. Think of an attribute
Select a contact and click the + under its details on the right. Note the extra fields that are available to add to it. Think of a way you'd like to group people that isn't addressed by these fields, then click inside your contact's Note field.
5. Add it to the Note field
We're going to create a group for MacFormat magazine. For each contact we want to include, we add to the Note field 'Magazine: MacFormat' (without quotes).
You can type anything, but be consistent with wording and grammar.
6. Group by note contents
Make a Smart Group, set it to check the Note field contains the same text you used in step 5, then click OK. You could adapt this to group friends who also have children to make the task of sending out party invitations easier, for example.
7. Maintain a birthday list
Calendar can provide birthday alerts, but a Smart Group in Contacts provides a potentially longer overview of what's coming up.
Create one that checks for 'Birthday is in the next' and a duration that suits how much warning you need!
8. Unearth missing details
It's easy to end up with an address book that isn't that useful. Create Smart Groups to list contacts lacking important details (email addresses, phone numbers, or both), then get cracking with filling in the missing information.
9. Recall where you met
If you acquire contacts at speed, use the Note field to state where, when and why you met someone.
Periodically create a Smart Group that finds contacts that lack this information and use it to prune your records accordingly.
10. What about iOS?
For reasons known only to Apple, Smart Groups don't sync to iOS, and you can't create Smart Groups on an iPhone, iPod touch or iPad, either. A workaround for the former problem is to copy items from a Smart Group into a regular one on your Mac, which will sync to iCloud and be accessible on iOS.
However, there is a way to make and edit Smart Groups on iOS: go to iCloud website in Safari, tap the Share icon, choose Request Desktop Site, then sign in and tap Contacts. Your iPhone must be in portrait orientation to see the + at the bottom of the sidebar.
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