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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Dan Moren

Contacts on iOS can’t merge, but it can link

Yesterday, I decried the lack of certain features in iOS’s Contacts app, but a Twitter follower pointed out that I wasn’t quite correct about one of those. It turns out there is a way to “merge” contacts via iOS.

I put “merge” in quotes, because unlike the OS X feature, the contacts in question don’t seem to permanently meld together; the feature simply unites the cards as one for the purposes of viewing. Unlike OS X’s solution, iOS’s solution is non-destructive; you can separate the records at any time. Hence why it’s called “link” contacts instead of “merge.”

To link two contacts, open up any contact record on your iOS device and tap Edit. All the way at the bottom you’ll find a header for “Linked Contacts”; tap the “link contacts” entry and pick another contact record. The two cards will now be displayed as one entry, pulling all the information from both records.

You can see all the linked contacts on an entry—and yes, you can link more than just two contacts—by scrolling to the bottom of the contact record; tapping on any of those contacts will show you just the information from those cards. Perhaps most usefully, if you have multiple accounts from which you draw contacts—say iCloud and Google, or even Microsoft Exchange—and you have John Smith’s contact info in both places, you can link both of his cards across those services.

/Users/dmoren/Desktop/subcontacts-6c.jpg

I couldn’t quite figure out what rubric it uses to determine which name or photo to display for the joint card, but if you tap on the linked contacts in edit mode, you can tell it which card’s info to use (see right).

To unlink an entry, go into edit mode again, scroll down to linked contacts, and hit the red icon to its left. That record’s info will once again be split off into a separate card.

Weirdly, this appears to be an iOS-specific feature. When I linked two versions of my own contact record, only iOS’s Contacts app showed them as one—they still showed up as two separate records on both my Mac and iCloud. And if you actually have duplicate records that you want to merge into one forever and ever, OS X is still the only way to go.

Thanks to Animesh Gupta for pointing out this feature.

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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.]