iOS contact management (duplicate removal, import/export etc.) tips and tricks

Today, I've helped a friend restore some contacts onto his iPhone. As the experience I gathered may be useful to you as well, I let you know.

First, on my Mac, while I had the contacts in the Windows version of Microsoft Outlook 2010 under Parallels Desktop, I had iTunes solely under my Mac OS X and didn't want to install it under Parallels to keep the Parallels image size down. (Which is of paramount importance when you use Time Machine to back up the contents of your computer, including the disk images of your Parallels virtual machines and want to save as much storage as possible.) After all, there are only two cases when it's indeed worth having iTunes in your virtual machine if you, otherwise, use the OS X version to synchronize your iOS devices:

- you need to import WMA files into your Music directory. This isn't possible under OS X. The easiest way of doing this isn't getting a third-party native OS X converter, but installing iTunes in your virtual machine and drag-and-dropping your WMA files directly in it. All your files will be converted and automagically inserted in the Music directory of the iTunes on your OS X partition, assuming you allow the sharing of your OS X home directories (enabled by default under Parallels).

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- you want to use Windows only (no-OS X) tools directly accessing the iOS device and allowing for tricks otherwise much more complicated to implement. Just an example: i-FunBox is a very-very useful tool you'll really want to give a try to. For example,

1. it allows for deploying your purchased (!) apps from a desktop computer not authorized with Apple (that is, not decreasing the number of available-to-register counter) on non-jailbroken iOS devices.

2. It also has a file system browser allowing access to the media directory on non-jailbroken devices as well. Note that, on the Mac, you'll want to use the commercial but really cool and highly recommended PhoneDisk by Macroplant for this purpose. Also note that I don't recommend the same app for Windows if your phone isn't jailbroken and would still want to access the home directory of your installed apps so that you can back up (and restore) the individual apps' settings by hand, without explicit support on the app developer's part or, under iOS 5+, iCloud support to do the same – it, unlike under OS X, won't work. (At least didn't work this Summer. I don't know whether this has been fixed in the meantime.)

3. it allows for backing up music and videos from your iOS device – but not in the opposite direction.

A side remark: put music / videos / other media on your iDevice without iTunes

Speaking of the opposite direction (copying multimedia files to your iDevice), should you want to avoid iTunes, on non-iPhone iOS devices (iPhones only allow for synchronizing with one and only one iTunes instance; that is, you can only use this trick on iPod touches and iPads), you can use even free tools to put music and videos on your handhelds. For the Mac, I recommend he pretty expensive but excellent SyncPod for Mac the most (again, unless you have an iPhone), which, in addition to being able to upload music to your iDevices, is also able to put videos, ebooks etc. on it. If all you want is copying music to your handheld without having to use the much more restrictive iTunes for this, you'll want to use FreeSync for Mac (of the same developer). It only allows for transferring music (feature comparison HERE). Note that there's no free FreeSync for Windows for purely music upload but, fortunately, the Windows version of SyncPod is considerably cheaper ($19).

Note that I may publish a separate article on all these file synchronization tips and tricks some time in the future. (Actually, I've even started writing a huge roundup & tips article but also had to do some Windows Phone 7 (Silverlight & XNA) work and, therefore, still couldn't publish the material.)

After having spend some time on some of the excellent third-party tools you may want to check out for (huge) freedom in synchronizing media and apps, back to the question of not having iTunes installed in your Windows virtual machine and transferring your contacts to the Address Book of your Mac.

First and foremost, the Windows version of Outlook can't mass-export in a format readable by the built-in Mac Address Book. If you select more than one contact in Outlook, all you will be able to do is export them as a text file incompatible with Address Book as it's not a comma/tab delimited one.

Mozilla Thunderbird

Mozilla Thunderbird for the rescue! More specifically, the Windows version. (The native Mac one can't read the .PST files of Outlook / communicate with it.) Just download and install the Windows version, start it and cancel / close all the “Create” type of dialog boxes. Click “Address Book” on the top and select Tools / Import. Instead of importing everything, simply importing the addresses will suffice; that is, select the Address Books radio button. Now, you can already select Outlook (or, for that matter, Outlook Express) from the list.

A word of warning: this won't import thumbnail portraits from the Outlook database. If you do need them, you'll need to research for a way of preserving them too.

After having imported all the entries, export them to the (default) LDIF format via Tools / Export – preferably to a disk partition also visible to OS X.

This LDIF file will already be directly readable by the Mac version of Address Book. Select File / Import and select the LDIF file.

A quick note

If you store your Outlook PST files on a read-only medium and try to directly import it via File / Open / Open Outlook file, you'll be presented the following error message:

To fix this error, after transferring it to a writable medium, just remove the “Read only” flag from the file. For example, in Total Commander, you can do this via Files / Change Attributes.

Contact duplication

Doing the above, I've run into the problem of contact duplication on the iPhone 4 (under iOS 5, which was freshly installed). Unfortunately, I couldn't fix the problem on the desktop side: no matter whether I've checked in the “Replace information on this iPhone / Contacts” checkbox or not, the contacts were transferred duplicated.

This meant I had to find an iPhone-side solution to the problem. Having quickly cancelled the idea of writing a duplicate remover myself (albeit, knowing the Address Book API I could have done it in 20-30 minutes), to keep the discussion as topical and useful for my readers as possible (readily available apps downloadable from AppStore instead of being just faced a source code of the tool) I quickly looked around in AppStore.

At first, I've looked at the following three free apps:

Duplicate Remover and Merger for Contact doubles and Address cleanup by Alittera Ltd. Inc. I didn't install this as it still doesn't support iOS 5.

Show Duplicate Contacts by ProtoTech Solutions: the free version just finds the duplicates but doesn't allow for deleting them. Finally, I haven't purchased the full version of this app as it doesn't allow for mass-selection of all duplicates and I just didn't want to manually select hundreds of contacts one by one.

STL Contacts Manager Free Tutorial: I just couldn't find a way of contact duplicate search and removal

Finally, I've gone for Delete Contacts Fast - DeleteQ ($0.99), which finds and removes the contacts via some taps (1. “Easy Select” in the lower left corner; 2. “Dup / Duplication” in the upper left area of the main area 3. tap “OK” in the dialog showing you the number of duplications 4. tap the trash bin icon in the bottom right corner and tap Delete.)

Note that after removing the contacts but sill having enabled contact synchronization, you'll, at first, be threatened by the removal of the contacts from your desktop on the next sync. You can safely select “Sync Now” then: your desktop contacts will remain intact.

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<p>Werner Ruotsalainen is an iOS and Java programming lecturer who is well-versed in programming, hacking, operating systems, and programming languages. Werner tries to generate unique articles on subjects not widely discussed. Some of his articles are highly technical and are intended for other programmers and coders.</p>
<p>Werner also is interested in photography and videography. He is a frequent contributor to not only mobile and computing publications, but also photo and video forums. He loves swimming, skiing, going to the gym, and using his iPads. English is one of several languages he speaks.</p>