Create a Shared Family Address Book with Contacts and iCloud
December 5, 2017 / Updated: June 29, 2020 / Lena Shore
NOTE: “Apple Family Sharing” is good for sharing the in-app purchases, iTunes, iBooks, and iCloud storage. But, it doesn’t share address books well, at least not yet.
I’ve gotten a lot of questions about this lately. I figure Apple will solve this problem eventually by changing the way the address book works. But, for now, it’s not really meant for sharing between different people.
The sharing of the address book using the default Apple method (not my method below) is good:
- If you want to share and sync the entire address book with all members of your family.
- If you are okay with only one identity between machines.
If the above items won’t work for you, try the method below.
We are a two-person household. Each of us has iPhones, Macs, and iPads, so it makes sense that we would want to share the same Contacts/Address book. We tried having separate Contacts, but someone will update something and the other won’t have it — and it’s a hassle. So, then we tried just sharing the same Contacts with iCloud and it was worse:
- Your devices forget who you are
- Your iMessages starts using the wrong email
- Your icon is wrong
- Your iPhone doesn’t know where “home” is anymore.
- …and many many other irritating things that will make you pull your hair out.
The problem is that as soon as you share your Contacts (Address Book), your address book can only mark one person as “you”. This cascades down into all kinds of identity problems for your computer, iMessages, iPhones, and other devices. And, as far as I know, there is no therapy for electronics. So, one person in the household is happy and the everyone else is hella-irritated because their iPhone can’t tell them how to get home or why their messages are only coming to their computer and not on their other devices.
After a lot of trial and error, I figured out a great way to do it. It takes a bit to set up, but is very worthwhile.
- Single-Family-Member-iCloud-Account: Each family member has their own iCloud account ([email protected], [email protected], [email protected], etc.). This account will keep your identities straight. This Contact will have:
- All the family members who will be sharing the shared address book. (example: If you have 3 people in your family, you should have 3 contact cards.)
- No other addresses.
- NOTE: The one downside of this is that you won’t be syncing your single identities across the devices. So, if Billy moves out and his address changes, everyone will have to update that card manually on each device.
- Shared-Family-iCloud-Account: You will create a single shared family iCloud account ([email protected]). This account is the one that will be synced across all devices and can be updated by anyone. This Contacts will have:
- NO family members (that will be sharing this account)
- All addresses you want shared.
- Each device in your family will be connected to both the Single and Shared iCloud accounts. Combined you will have all your addresses.
Step 1: Get prepared
This whole thing is going to go a lot easier if you have everyone’s computers, iPhones, iPads, etc. available so you can get it all done at once. It’s not necessary – but it will make it go faster and easier.
If your household is anything like mine – good luck trying to find an hour when someone isn’t using one of their devices. Maybe you can do it at 3 a.m.
Step 2: Create a new Apple ID just for your family address book
- You’ll need an email address for your new iCloud account – one you aren’t already using for any other Apple ID. I got a freebie one through gmail that I only intend on using for sharing my address book. But, you could get one through any other email provider.
- Name this email something that will indicate that it is the shared, address book one. Stick the word “family” or “shared” in it so it’s really clear what you are doing with it. You’ll be happy you did this later. Example: [email protected] or [email protected]
- Go to icloud.com and sign up for your Apple ID using the email address. You may need to log out of your current account.
Step 3: Back up your addresses
- Open your Contacts app
- Highlight all of your addresses
- Drag them to your desktop to make a single vCard.
- Rinse and repeat for each family member with their Contacts app.
NOTE: As a dear reader pointed out to me, if you use notes in your vCards, make sure they will export the notes with the rest of your vCards. Check this setting by going to Contacts –> Preferences –> vCard. You can change the default back when you are done.
Step 4: Combine all the addresses
Next, we are going to create a master Address Book with Contacts. Let’s assume you are going to do this on your own computer.
- Get all the vCards on your computer (email, Airdrop, imessage, thumb drive, etc.)
- Take all the vCards you created in step two and combine them into a single address book by dragging them onto the address book on your computer. FYI: If you are on YOUR computer, no need to drag the back up you just made back into your Contacts.
Step 5: Clean up your messy addresses
You don’t have do to this now, but it will be harder to clean up later with everyone syncing everything. It’s time well spent.
- Look for Duplicates (Contacts –> Card –> Look for Duplicates) and clean up as necessary.
- If your Contacts app is a real mess, check the App Store for apps to help clean it up. I have used “Contacts Cleaner” in the past and liked it.
- When you are done, create another backup of your newly cleaned up Contacts app the same way we did in Step 2.
Step 6: Import Addresses into Your New “Shared Family iCloud Account”
- Login to your new iCloud Account (Created in Step 2)
- Go to “Contacts”
- Look for the gear in the lower right
- Import the new shiny clean backup you made in the last step.
- Search for any family members that will be sharing this account and remove them from the Contacts.
Step 7: Prepare your Local Address book for Import
- On each device and computer, un-sync the contacts (ex. For iPhone = Settings -> Accounts -> iCloud) and delete all contacts, family members included. It’s sounds scary – but it’s okay. Remember step 5? You have a backup!
- In the Contacts app, confirm that all contacts are deleted.
- Make sure that all the family members’ contacts are in each individual iCloud accounts.
- In each individual iCloud accounts, highlight the owner’s card as “me”. Contacts –> Card –> Make This My Card
- On each device and computer, sync the contacts (ex. For iPhone = Settings -> Accounts -> iCloud).
- In the Contacts app, confirm that all family members’ contacts are listed and the owner’s contact is listed as “me”.
Step 8: Add New Account to computer
- While in Contacts go to: Contacts –> Preferences –> Accounts
- Click the “plus” symbol (+) and add your new “Shared Family iCloud Account”
- If you have been trying to share previous versions of your contacts before this tutorial (like I did) and you see remnants of them in the Accounts section, delete them.
- By now you’ll probably have to stop and reassure your family members that you are almost done and they can have their devices back soon.
- Now go to Apple –> System Preferences –> Internet Accounts and make sure your new account is added there as well. If it isn’t, add it.
- Select the new account and make sure that only “Contacts” is checked. BONUS: you can also share a family calendar by checking the “Calendars” checkbox.
Step 9: Add New Account to iPhone and iPad
- Pick up your iPhone (or iPad) and go to: Settings –> Passwords & Accounts –> “Add Account”
- Add the new “Shared Family iCloud Account”
- As in the previous step — only activate the Contacts (and the Calendar if you want to share a calendar).
Step 10: Rinse and Repeat
- Now that you’ve done yours, you’ll need to do this on everyone else’s devices. I found it was easier to make a list of each person and their device so I didn’t forget anyone.
Step 11: Set Your Default Account (optional)
- Macintosh: Launch Contacts on your computer and go to it’s Preferences –> General –> (Select the Default Account desired)
- iOS devices (iPad, iPhone): Go to Settings –> Contacts –> Default Account
- If you decided to enable a shared Calendar for most things, make sure that everyone’s default Calendar is the new Shared Family Calendar
- You might also consider deleting other unused calendars. This is what we did as we were happy sharing everything on one calendar.
- If you have been trying to share before and it wasn’t working out, you may have remnants of old sharing attempts on your machine, iPhone, etc. Go ahead and delete those. You don’t need them and they can only cause problems in the future.
- If you don’t see your items updating on your phone immediately, you can check your Push/Pull settings; You can also add a blank entry to force your Contacts to sync.
Step 11: Go have a beer
- You deserve it!