When you work with other people, there are a number of things that are beneficial to share with the rest of your team (or at least some of them). Calendars? Easy, thanks to the built-in sharing features of both iCloud and Google Calendar. Documents? Easy, thanks to services like Dropbox, etc. Reference notes? Easy, thanks to the likes of Evernote, et al. Contacts?
Easy. Well, not so fast. This isn’t so easy. Not at first glance, anyway. How do I share a subset of my Contacts database with someone else? Unlike digital calendars, there’s no way to share just a group of contacts with someone else from a single iCloud account. The key word here being single. Hold that thought.
The way around this problem was easier than I first thought. It was certainly much easier than the way I used to solve this problem. When I first started working here, it was in the days before iCloud, and I used to share groups of contacts with others by exporting a group as a .vcf file and emailing it to the other person, who would then have to import those contacts and replace them on her Mac. Every single time changes were made, we would have to go through this. Thankfully, those days are far behind us.
In the end, all I had to do was create a second, free iCloud account (go to icloud.com to get started) which I would use only to store and sync contacts. That’s Step 1. Step 2 was to sign into that iCloud account on my Mac, but not as my primary iCloud account. That’s a key piece of information. You can actually sign into multiple iCloud accounts on a single Apple device, but only one of them can be your primary iCloud account. That’s the one that will sync your documents, Keychain, Photos, network settings, etc. Any other iCloud account you sign into can be used for Calendars, Reminders, Notes, Mail, and/or Contacts. Huzzah! There it is! So, what I did was uncheck the boxes for everything except Contacts. We’re now half-way there.
Step 3 was to get the app BusyContacts for my Mac. I know it might seem a little pricey at $49.99, but it is way more powerful than Apple’s built-in Contacts app. And if you’re going down this road of managing multiple Contacts accounts and groups, you’re going to need a tool that’s up to the task. BusyContacts is that tool, and it makes working with multiple Contacts accounts and various tags a breeze.
Now, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Apple’s rollout of two-factor authentication (TFA) for all iCloud accounts. As of June 15 2017, all iCloud accounts have two-factor authentication enabled. That’s relevant here because if you want to use BusyContacts to access your iCloud contacts, you have to create an app-specific password to authorize BusyContacts. Providentially, the guys behind BusyContacts have published a tidy explanation of how to do just that. You’ll need to create an app-specific password for BusyContacts from your primary iCloud account, too, in order for BusyContacts to have access to all of your contacts. Be sure to save those passwords!
Step 4. Once you’ve signed into your iCloud account in BusyContacts, you’ll see that what were termed Groups in Apple’s Contacts app are handled as tags in BusyContacts. Different terminology, same basic idea. You need to make sure that all of the contacts you want to share have the same tag, then select all of the contacts with that tag and move them to the address book for the new iCloud account you’ve created. To do that, just control-click on the selected contacts and choose the address book for that secondary, Contacts-only iCloud account.
Step 5. For anyone else on your team who needs that information, all you have to do is give them the login credentials for the iCloud account (as the account holder, you’ll likely get the TFA login notification on your device, so you’ll have to send them the code to allow them access), then they can log into that account on their devices and access that same group in Contacts. Important note: If they’re just planning to use the stock Contacts app on their Mac or iOS device, they do not need to have an app-specific password. Only non-Apple apps need those. After that, you’re up an running, and any changes made will automatically be synced to anyone logged into that iCloud account. Much easier than it used to be in the pre-iCloud days, and all of your documents and other iCloud data will be safe, since that is all tied to your primary iCloud account.
P.S.: One final recommendation. If you’ve gone through the above steps, take the additional step of setting up automatic backups of your contacts database through BusyContacts. That way, you have a fail-safe for this information in the event something should go wrong.