Syncing contacts in the Cloud

Q. I have thousands of contacts in my MobileMe account, and I am having trouble editing them. If I edit them on my iPhone, iPad or my Mac the old contact records keep coming back. How can I edit them and stop the duplicate address?

A. One of the great things about MobileMe, Exchange, Kerio and Apple’s new iCloud is that you can sync your contacts and calendars between your Macs, iPhones, iPads and even with a PC. By using cardDav, calDev, Active Sync or Exchange, the online account is the central point that connects the devices regularly throughout the day. (We’ll refer to them as MobileMe to keep this simple.) The problem you’ve encountered is that while you can add new addresses, removing old ones can be a problem because they may come back when the other devices with the incorrect contacts sync back.

Your best plan of action is to choose one device that you will edit as the master Address Book while it is not connected to MobileMe. Once it’s cleaned up, sync it with MobileMe and replace the data, then reset the synced data on your other device. That way you’ll stop the old records from coming back the next time MobileMe syncs. MobileMe is set up to ask for confirmation when a certain percentage of records are different.

To begin editing the master list, disconnect all of your devices from MobileMe by signing out from System Preferences (or the MobileMe control panel on Windows). You can also disconnect your iPhones (iPads and iPods) from MobileMe. When you first switch off Address Book syncing on the iPhone, you will be asked what you’d like to do with the existingt contacts; either “Merge with MobileMe” or not. Since you are going to replace these eventually you should choose not to merge them. If you do, choose to “Keep the Records” on your device – we will fix them up later.

Choose one computer to edit the records in your Address Book while you’re not connected to a network. Once you have completed editing your contacts it would be wise to back up by creating an Address Book archive file (From the File menu choose Export and then Address Book Archive). It should go without saying that you should back up the information on your Macs and sync you iPhones with iTunes before you start. Later if there’s a problem and you need to restore the records you can replace the entire Address Book from this file.

Now you can connect your Mac with the master Address Book to MobileMe. Again using the System Preferences, you should connect to your account. Once you reconnect to MobileMe, the service will notice that the records have changed and you will be asked how to sync the records. Do not choose “Merge Records” or you will restore the incorrect mix of records. Instead, choose to “Replace the Records on MobileMe.” (You did remember to create the archive I mentioned earlier, didn’t you?) This will delete the files on MobileMe’s online and replace them with those on your Mac. Be patient; this will take a few minutes.

If you have more than one Mac, you can choose to replace the contacts on the second Mac by restoring them with the archive we made earlier. After you have checked that the contacts match on MobileMe and your master Mac, you can reconnect the second Mac. If you chose not to restore from the archive, you should carefully choose to replace the contacts on the Mac with the contacts on MobileMe.

Before you reconnect your iPhone to MobileMe, you should choose to remove the contacts. This is done by setting the Address Book syncing to “off”. This is done by choosing the MobileMe account in Mail, Contacts, Calendar view of the Settings app. When you set the switch to off, the app will ask what to do with the existing contacts. Since you have a more reliable set on MobileMe, you can choose to not Merge with MobileMe and then to delete the contacts. You will be asked to confirm the decision to delete.

After a few seconds your contacts on the iPhone will be cleared of contacts. You can confirm this by opening the Contacts app. Go back to the MobileMe account and set the sync switch to “on”. In a few minutes or so your iPhone will sync with MobileMe and the cleaned contacts will be on your iPhone as well.