Sharing Address Book in iCloud

Apple’s abandonment of its MobileMe service in favour of the newly introduced iCloud has caused a few hiccups along the way. One of which has been losing the ability to share Address Book contacts easily between users with different iCloud accounts.

Before the recent change over to iCloud from MobileMe you could share your Address Book with another MobileMe user so that both of you could access the same Contacts list. This was done by “Subscribing to…” another MobileMe user’s Address Book. It was a simple process and worked well for me where I shared the Contacts within my Address Book with my husband. He was able to see my contacts within his Address Book on his iMac.

Although the “Subscribe to Address Book…” option still appears in the menu bar after the change to iCloud, you can only subscribe to a MobileMe member’s Address Book and not to an account that has been moved to iCloud.

In fact at first I could see no obvious simple way to share Contacts now that we have both moved our MobileMe accounts to iCloud.

Well, it turns out you can still share your contacts in Address Book between iCloud members, it just takes a different approach to achieve the same result.

An important note to bare in mind is that you will be sharing access to other parts of your iCloud account, so this really needs to be done only with someone you trust.

The best way for me to explain how to I did this is to describe how it works in my home.

Reason for sharing Address Book:

In my household I host the main Address Book on my iMac and I need this to sync to my laptop and iOS devices. My husband wants to share my Address Book on his iMac and for the contacts within my Address Book to sync to his iPhone.

Previously, in the MobileMe days:

Address Book was synced across my two Macs and iOS devices via MobileMe.  Within his Address Book my husband subscribed to my Address Book on his iMac and the contents were then synced to his iPhone via his MobileMe account.

And now with iCloud:

it isn’t quite so simple, but it is possible, here’s how…

Both my husband’s and my MobileMe accounts have been converted to iCloud, all our Macs and iOS devices are running the latests operating systems, OS X 10.7 Lion and iOS 5 respectively.

On my iMac: The Address Book is now synced to my MacBook Air and my iOS devices via my iCloud account. That’s the simple part.

On my husband’s iMac: He has his own Address Book but, by default, no access to the contacts within my Address Book.

So, to enable my Address Book contacts to show up in his Address Book:

I open System Preferences on his iMac and go to “Mail, Contacts & Calendars” where I add a new iCloud account. I enter my Apple ID details to set up the new iCloud account on his computer.

New iCloud Account Added

This new iCloud account is recognised by his iMac as not being the primary iCloud account for his machine. It gives the options of selecting or deselecting access to “Mail & Notes”, “Contacts” and “Calendars” from my newly added iCloud account. On my husband’s iMac, all I want is “Contacts”, so I un-tick “Mail & Notes” and “Calendars” and make sure “Contacts” is ticked.

I then select his original primary iCloud account and un-tick “Contacts”, leaving the others ticked as required.

The Original Primary iCloud Account

The contacts from my Address Book now show up in the Address Book on my husband’s iMac.

The next step is to get the Contacts from my Address Book onto his iPhone. This is achieved in a similar way, by adding my iCloud account details to his iPhone.

On his iPhone I go to Settings, and then into “Mail, Contact, Calendars”, and then to “Add Account…” , choose “iCloud” and I enter my Apple ID and Password.

He now has access to my iCloud account on his phone, but the only information from my iCloud account that I want on his iPhone is “Contacts” so I un-tick “Mail”, “Calendars” “Reminders” etc, just leaving “Contacts” as ticked.

He has read and write access to the shared Contact list and any changes he makes show up across all our Macs and iOS devices within minutes via iCloud syncing.

Both his and my Macs and iOS devices now share one Address Book.

For our particular setup this works well, however there may well be variations that others wish to explore. For example it would still be possible for my husband to keep his own Address Book and Contacts running in tandem with the shared data, just by keeping “Contacts” ticked within his own iCloud account on his iMac and iPhone.

Maybe one day Apple will give us a simpler way to share our Address Book, just like the old days.

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  1. Thank You! This is EXACTLY what I have been looking for! Right now my wife and I share the same iCloud account because we want to keep our contacts synced…now I can get her own iCloud account and this is awesome. THANK YOU!

  2. Address Book Server (www.addressbookserver.com) offers and alternative to MobileMe. It also allows you to synchronise specific groups rather then your entire address book.

    • Kim Galloway
    • December 17th, 2011

    Thank you so much!! This is exactly what I was looking for as well!

    • Carol
    • December 18th, 2011

    Thank you! Excellent instructions.

    • Bill
    • December 24th, 2011

    This is a GREAT post!! I had been trying to figure it out for a couple days until I found this. I now have it configured on 2 MBPs, iMac, 2 iPhone 4, and 2 iPads. Thank You!!! Now all I need to do is find a way to iPhoto library between the 2 MBPs and iMac (i.e. have 1 library that they all share).

      • GazzDownUnder
      • December 28th, 2011

      Bill, I’m not certain, but to share an iPhoto Library (simultaneously), you may have to install Aperture on the Macs.

  3. Nice one, cheers

    • Jimmy P.
    • January 12th, 2012

    Question: Does Siri now call you AND your husband by your name?

    My wife and I share contacts this way already, and I realized in SETTINGS > MAIL, CONTACTS,CALENDAR, under the “Contacts” header for My Info it is the same name, mine. If I change it to hers on her 4s it changes to her name on mine.

    Other than Siri calling her or me by the wrong name could this cause any other issues?

      • jane73
      • January 13th, 2012

      Hi Jimmy,

      My husband only has the iPhone 4 and not the 4S so I haven’t been able to test the Siri name aspect on his phone. I need to look to see if my name is in his “My Info” setting!
      I haven’t noticed any other issues, it seems to be working fine for us at the moment. Whether that will change with any software updates remains to be seen.
      Thanks for pointing out the the implications of this setup for 4S Siri users.

        • Jimmy P.
        • January 13th, 2012

        Same situation here. I have a 4 and my wife has a 4s. It was calling her Jimmy. So i went in the settings and changed it to her. Later I noticed on my 4 that it was her name under “My Info”. You are right, for the moment it does not matter and I suppose I could stand to be called her name if I get a 4s or 5 or 6 in the future.

        Suffice it to say we all want Apple to rethink how the IDs integrate with each other. I would think an Apple Family is a valuable commodity to them, and my hope is they look at ways to keep families better able to share without stepping on each others toes.

  4. I was dreading having to figure this out, especially with my past (horrible) MobileMe experience. Worked like charm. Thanks for taking time to share!

    • William
    • January 25th, 2012

    This is NOT sharing. This is giving another person access to all aspects of your iCloud account. This may be a “simple” fix for couples, but it is not a feasible way to share contact information between co-workers.

    For the iCloud calendar it is a matter of clicking share this calendar, selecting who you want to share with and hitting send. (And this can be done from in Outlook on a PC)

    What is the actual solution for SHARING contacts??

    • Matt
    • February 14th, 2012

    If you do leave Contacts “ticked” for both his iCloud account and yours, how does it exactly show up in the contacts? Is it all just mixed together, or are there two address books that the app allows you to toggle between?

    Thanks! great post!!!

    • PirateMacFan
    • February 19th, 2012

    Crystal clear. Thank you for writing instructions that are precise and succinct, and that don’t meander all over the place!

    • MervynG
    • March 1st, 2012

    Well done. I was struggling to see how our MobileMe Family pack arranagement would work with iCloud. Separate iCloud accounts with ‘issues’ or one Master iCloud with Free Apple iCloud sub-accounts with differing issues. We wanted shared calendars and address books but discrete iMessage and emails. So have each now got iCloud accounts and shared the calebadras as before but used your method for Contacts. Just got to overcome an issue where a previous subscrition to my AddressBook won’t delete. So will re-boot after a permissions repair.

    Jusy got to figure out shared iTunes across them all now. Happy Days!

    I will feedback to Apple as I feel they’ve overly prioritised multiple asset owning individuals and not families. Doing contacts like shared calendars is the obvious answer.

    By the way it was an Apple on the help chat line that referred me to this article when there was nothing they could find to help within Apple! So very well done in fact.

    • Douglas
    • March 19th, 2012

    Nicely written instructions, we’ve been sharing on Account, just to ensure our calendars and contacts remain a one entry system.
    This resolves the issue and allows us to move to two iCloud accts.
    Thanks so much! NIce Post, very clear and concise! Kudos!

    • Dennis
    • April 7th, 2012

    Very Good. I have been searching for this solution. Even Apple support doesn’t give you this. They just say either share all data or no data.

    Thanks again.

    • harry
    • April 8th, 2012

    great solution thanks for spending the time for all of us.

    • harry
    • April 9th, 2012

    as a solution if one wants to share the exactly the same contacts and calendars across my iphone 4S and mac book pro and my wifes Imac and iphone 3 and ipad can we not just both use the same apple ID?

    • Steve Switzer
    • July 30th, 2012

    Superb! Thanks Dude – echo what the others said – Crystal clear and solved a **VERY** frustrating problem.
    Thanks a whole bunch – I can now cancel my Genius Bar appointment.
    SteveS ;-)

  5. Thanks Jane this is a big help, and well written!

    Can anyone tell me what the result would be if the sharee (your husband for instance) were to keep both contact accounts turned on? Does the GUI in iOS support it gracefully?

    • Karen
    • November 27th, 2012

    I also “keep” the master phonebook and calendar and share it with my husband. We just upgrade phones to the iphone5 which has caused me to rework our access as described above with the following addition – First I deleted my husband’s record in our address book. On my husband’s computer I then deleted my icloud account (which he was using and which deleted both the address book and calendar from his computer). After setting up his icloud account as the primary account I made sure his Address Book was turned on. I created one record in his Address Book with just his details and set it to “his” card. I then added my icloud account to the System Prefs – Mail, Calendar,etc settings turning on just the Address book and Calendar. We then went through a similar exercise with his iphone and iPad. On my computer I made sure that I had a record in the Address Book with just my details and that it was set as “my” card (this enables us to use autofill with our own details as well as to have Siri know who we are since she seems to use the primary icloud account for this information) and I added his icloud account to my System Prefs – Mail, Calendar,etc settings enabling just the address book (so I could see his record). Did a similar exercise on my iPhone. Calendars and Address books are in sync and we are now able to have Siri call us whatever the kids decide is our nickname of the day and we can both use autofill without having to change half the details!

  6. Help!

    I can’t get this solution to work because when I try to add the secondary x@me.com account on “Mail, Contacts & Calendars” on my Mac it says that the account already exists- even when I don’t see it on the list.

    Add my name to the group of people that thinks Apple really needs to figure out how to make all of this easier for families. Long overdue. They’ve kinda backed into this.

  7. To elaborate, we have a shared AppleID under a hotmail account name that we use for iTunes. And we have individual me.com addresses for mail, etc. We also have one son on a me.com address and are about to add another. We would like the hotmail address to act as the iTunes hub, have (private, ideally) email accounts but a shared contact book and a shared calendar with different nodes to turn off an on.

    suggestions?

      • Alan F
      • June 10th, 2013

      The problem with doing this is that you may encounter glitches in your calendar. I followed this technique, and the contact sharing worked very well. But both my calendar and my wife’s calendar kept running into mysterious problems – disappearing events, mostly. Very frustrating to enter info on an event, and then have it disappear from the calendar, especially when it meant missing an appointment.

      After eight weeks and many, many hours with many people at Apple, Apple’s Carpe Facto group (really – that’s what the engineering troubleshooting group is called) reported that while you technically can do what is described in this article (don’t worry – I didn’t out anyone!), the iphone/icloud syncing process isn’t really all that clean. Even though your goal is to share contacts only, there is some spillover in the syncing process that can cause an occasional problem with calendars. As soon as we stopped syncing our contacts to the same iCloud account, the calendar problems stopped. I sure wish there was a safe way to share contacts, but have yet to find it. Time to start looking for third party apps!

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