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By Dan Moren

Wish List: Contact management on iOS

Personally, I find Apple’s Contacts app on iOS a necessary, well, if not “evil,” then at least a necessary “meh.” It syncs with my Mac, it stores contact data, and is accessible systemwide and to third-party apps. All great, but the Contacts app itself needs some work.

Contact Groups on iOS

There are two places in particular where I think Contacts falls down, but both those features can be grouped loosely under one heading: contact management.

If you want to access contact information on iOS, it’s easy enough: search via Spotlight or the app’s internal search, and tap on any of the contact information to send an email, text, or so on. Even entering contact info isn’t too hard.

But let’s take a slightly more complicated task. Say, creating a group of contacts. Ha ha! Trick question. You can’t create a group of contacts on iOS. Nor can you delete groups. Or assign people to groups. Pretty much the only thing you can do with groups on iOS is toggle whether or not contacts from specific groups are displayed.

If you want to do anything else with groups, you have to turn to Contacts on your Mac, or, if you don’t have a Mac, the Contacts web app on iCloud.com.

Contact groups on iCloud

Now, I don’t use contact groups that much—but I’ll posit that’s in part because support for them on iOS is so shoddy. Yeah, I could spend more time creating them on my Mac—which even has the ability to make Smart Groups—but I can’t easily send an email or a text to a group, so what’s the point?

I hesitate to say “axe groups entirely” because I’m sure there are plenty of folks out there who use the feature. But Apple’s haphazard implementation isn’t doing any favors: it seems like the company should either go all-in or all-out.

Speaking of contact management, there’s a second capability that falls into this same gap. Contacts on OS X has a very handy feature that lets it not only look for duplicates automatically, but also manually merge contacts. None of those options exist in Contacts on iOS—and they’re not available in the iCloud web app either.

Duplicate-finding on iOS is, I think, not a pressing need. It’s a feature that gets used only occasionally, when you’re cleaning up your contacts—although an automatic process that notices when I’m adding a new contact that I already have some information for and offers to merge them would not go amiss.

But manual merging of contacts on iOS would be useful, not least because I sometimes find that iCloud has decided to create two separate records for someone, seemingly on its own. (Update: Though you can’t permanently merge contacts on iOS, you can link them together. Here’s how.)

Contacts is one of those areas that probably isn’t going to blow most people’s hair back, but it’s a feature that almost all of us use every single day. In fact, it’s so central that Apple itself has devoted an entire physical button to it on the Apple Watch. I’m hopeful that signals an increase in interest from the company, but I also know the merits of not holding my breath. We’ll have to see what iOS 9 brings.

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[Dan Moren is a tech writer, novelist, podcaster, and the Official Dan of Six Colors. You can email him at dan@sixcolors.com or find him on Twitter at @dmoren.]