One of the real strengths of OS X is how information given to one app is be pulled into another automatically. This post will build on the previous one, showing how another apps that come with Mac OS X, in this case Mail, can use all the contact information you’ve already painstakingly added to Address Book. Let’s have a look, shall we?

Mail Setup

I’d prefer to keep these basic tutorials out of the “how to setup” weeds, and try to show you how to leverage the information in one app in many others. So, if you’d like to know the basics of the Mail app, Apple’s own Mac 101 support page for Mail does a good job of explaining the basic features and how to setup your mail accounts.

Address Book Images

One nice thing, right off the bat, that you’ll notice in Mail is that if you’ve saved any mug-shots into Address Book, they’ll automatically show up in your email message listings. This can be a useful way of figuring out who an email is from at a glance.

Sending Emails to Groups

This is probably the most straight-forward use of Address Book (AB) Groups—that is, group emails. Assuming you’ve already established groups in Address Book, when you’re creating a new message in Mail, all you have to do is start typing the name of the group, and Mail will use predictive typing to figure out who you’re intended email is for.

If you don’t remember the name of the Group in AB, just click on the little Address Book button, and up pops an AB dialog that allows you to choose the groups or individual contacts.

Adding Contacts via Mail

Another way Mail and Address Book cooperate is the “Add to Address Book” feature in Mail.

In the individual message window of any email, any of the header (the To: From: CC: Subject: Date: area at the top of the message body) email addresses can be added. Use the mouse pointer to hover over a name or address, click the little triangle at the end of the name, and a option list will appear. Select “Add to Address Book” and AB will do as it’s told (though I’ve found for some reason, AB will either silently add the contact, and sometimes it will pop up to allow you to edit the contact you’ve just added). You can then search and find the contact in AB and add it to your group(s) of choice.

If there are multiple emails from which you’d like to gather addresses, select the messages, and in the Message menu select “Add Senders to Address Book” (or select Cmd-Y).

iChat from Mail

Contacts enables you to use yet another Mac OS X App, iChat, easily through Mail. If you’ve assigned instant message names to contacts in AB, and you have iChat launched, you can see their status in Mail (note the green, yellow and red translucent dots next to their names).

Double clicking on the dot launches a new message window for that contact in iChat. This comes in handy when sending an email isn’t instant-enough-gratification, or you need a response instantly.


I don’t know about you, but I get hundreds of emails a day. My ability to sort and prioritize emails based on a number of different criteria is essential in keeping me productive (and sane), and I’ve found Mail more than up-to-the-task for managing email whether it’s for work or pleasure. The key to this is using Mail’s built in Rules and Smart Mailboxes.

It can be confusing to distinguish how Rules work differently from Smart Mailboxes. Here’s how I distinguish the two:

  • Rules: can be used move emails as you receive them—from your Inbox and into other folders for sorting or archiving. Rules can also be applied manually to emails after they’ve been downloaded from your mail server.

  • Smart Mailboxes: can be used more like Smart Playlists in iTunes and Smart Groups in Address Book, when you want to have a list of dynamically updated messages that fit a certain criteria. On their own, Smart Mailboxes don’t move emails around, instead they are constantly updated searches based on the criteria you assign them.

I’ll leave the strategy of how you sort your emails to you, but here are some examples of how you can use the groups in Address Book to manage the email onslaught.

Moving and sorting mail out of the Inbox:

Say you want to get messages out of your Inbox and automatically archived into mailbox folders. In this case, lets make a rule to move emails from friends and family into a local mailbox folder on my Mac.

First, you should already have “Friends and Family” as a Group or Smart Group in your AB. In Mail, you’ll want to create a Mailbox from either the Mailbox menu or the plus button at the bottom of the folder / Mailbox listing. I’ll call it “Friends and Family.”

Next, to move messages around, we’ll use Rules which can be found in Mail Preferences (in the Mail menu, or pressing Cmd-,). From there, select the Rules icon, and then the Add Rule button.

You’ll now see a Rules dialog box, which allows you to name the rule and assign it a sorting criteria. Once again, I’m going to call the rule “Friends and Family.” I only have one condition to base my criteria on, so I’ll just leave the first selection box to “any.” In the first drop down menu in the first criteria, I’m going to select “Sender is a member of a Group” and then select the “Friends and Family” group. Then, in the “Perform the following actions” area, I’ll select “Move Message” to mailbox “Friends and Family” and then click the OK button.

Once that’s done, it will be added to the Rules list. Note that the Rules can be dragged and dropped into different orders, which might come in handy when you have a number of rules, but you want email messages to jump through one criteria before another. After your done with the Rule, so long as you’ve checked the Active box in the list, the next time you check your email, the rules will be applied to incoming email. If you want to apply Rules to email you’ve already downloaded from your server, select the desired mailbox, select all the messages in that mailbox from the Edit menu (or with Cmd-A) and then from the Message menu, select Apply Rules (or Cmd-Option-L), and the messages will sort.

Keeping work and play separate:

Maybe you want to see the most recent messages from your work colleagues as well as your friends. Smart Mailboxes make this easy. First, you should have separate AB Groups or Smart Groups for both Friends and Work-related contacts. Next, in Mail, from the Mailbox menu, select “New Smart Mailbox…” or click the little gear button at the bottom of the folder / Mailbox listing and select “New Smart Mailbox…”

The Smart Mailbox dialog that drops down will look familiar from other “Smart” searches in OS X. First, name the Smart Mailbox, for the first one I’ll call it “Work.” For the first drop down box, I’m going to select “all,” as I’ll have multiple search criteria. In the first criteria drop down list, I’ll select “Sender is a Member of a Group” and in the next I’ll select that Group from AB. Then I’ll add another criteria by clicking the “+” button and then from the first drop down list, I’ll select “Date Received” and in the second, I’ll select “is this week.” Then click the OK button. When done, click on your new “Work” Smart Mailbox and you should find all the messages in your system from your work colleagues over the past two weeks. Once a message falls out of that time criteria, it will no longer show up in that folder. The same can be accomplished for friends emails by choosing that group from AB instead.

If you want to edit or modify the Smart Mailbox, simply right click or control click on it, and select “Edit Smart Mailbox…”


Hopefully, that gives you some ideas of how to leverage your Address Book contacts with Mail. Check back next time for another look at how the Mac’s sharing of information between apps can help you work better.

There are 2 comments on Back to Basics of Mac OS X Part 2: Leveraging Contacts in Mail:

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  1. Tom Tate | Sep 26 2006 - 10:37


    So glad you have joined the team of Maccast. Love the show. Think the blogs are a great addition.

    Just wanted to help out on a bit you had about adding contacts via mail…

    “…“Add to Address Book” and AB will do as
    it’s told (though I’ve found for some reason, AB will either silently add the contact, and sometimes it will pop up to allow you to edit the contact you’ve just added)…”

    In my experience, some email addresses come into mail with a first and last name already attached to the actual “” address, they show up as John Smith “”. If this is the case and I add to address book then it’s a silent add. However, if the email address does not have a first and last name attached, then Address Book will launch and give me the option to fill in those fields.


  2. Alex Curtis | Sep 26 2006 - 11:15

    Ohhh! That makes a lot of sense–and really well thought out on Apple’s part.

    Thanks for the tip and kind comments, Tom.