Calling and Contacts

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Macworld’s look at the different functions of the iPhone continues with this look at its phone features. Previous installments focused on music and video playback and photo capabilities.

The iPhone packs a lot of features into its 4.5-by-2.4-by-0.46-inch frame. But first and foremost, it’s a phone. And if it’s to be a successful one, the iPhone needs to make connecting with your contacts as simple as the push of a button.


At the heart of the device’s phone features is Contacts, the collection of phone numbers, e-mail addresses, and other personal data about anyone you’d ever want to talk to. To truly take advantage of the iPhone’s features, you’ll need an extensive—and up-to-date—contact list.

Syncing There are a couple of ways to get your contacts onto the iPhone. The easiest is via iTunes, which automatically syncs contacts when the device is plugged into your Mac. The first time you connect your phone, iTunes will ask which contacts you want imported—you can specify selected groups or just import every contact in your Address Book. Syncing is bi-directional—any changes made to a contact on the iPhone will show up on the computer, and vice versa.

You can also add contacts directly on the iPhone by tapping on the plus sign at the top of Contacts screen. A contact form, similar to what you see in the Mac’s Address Book, will appear, and you’ll use the onscreen keyboard to fill in a name, number (or multiple numbers), e-mail address (or addresses), and other information including birthdays, nicknames, job titles, and notes.

Searching Looking up a contact works the same way as searching for a song on the iPhone. The contact list shows every contact listed alphabetically—you can use the Settings screen to pick how they’re sorted (by last name or first name) as well as how they’re displayed (“Jim Dalrymple” or “Dalrymple, Jim”) on screen. You can scroll up and down the list with a corresponding flick of your finger or use the A-to-Z alphabet running down the right-hand side of the screen to jump to contacts starting with that letter.

Phone screen

Almost everything on the iPhone is a tap or two away, and the phone features are no different. Touching the Phone icon on the bottom of the Home screen produces five buttons: Favorites, Recents, Contacts, Keypad, and Visual Voicemail. We’ve talked about Contacts, but here is a rundown of what the other buttons do.

Favorites This section is a user-defined list of your most frequently called numbers—think of it as the iPhone’s equivalent of speed dialing (though it takes a couple more taps to dial a number than a speed-dialing feature probably should). Tapping the plus sign on the Favorites screen brings up your Contacts—you can find a contact, click on the name, and then tap on the Home, Mobile, or Work number to add it to your Favorites. (You can add more than one number for a person, though each one shows up as a separate Favorites entry.)

You can re-order your Favorites with a drag of your finger.

You can delete numbers from the Favorites list by touching the red circle next to a name and tapping the Remove button that appears. Tapping to the right of the name and dragging re-orders your Favorites list.

Recents All the calls coming into and going out of your iPhone are collected here and shown in two views—All or Missed. The latter list shows which person (if they’re in your Contacts) or phone number called and how many times they’ve tried to reach you. (Missed calls also appear in red, setting them apart visually from the black dialed calls.) Tap on the name or number to call that person back.

Keypad If you don’t have a phone number in your Contacts and need to make a call—or if you just like the feel of pressing numbers to initiate a phone call—hit this button to summon up an old fashioned keypad. Once you type in a number, you can hit a plus button followed by Add New Contact to save it for future use.

Visual Voicemail You retrieve messages on this screen. But this is unlike other voicemail services which require you to listen to all messages in the order received; Apple’s implementation displays messages in a list, letting you pick and choose which messages to listen to and in what order. Unheard voicemails have a blue dot next to them, making it easy to see what you haven’t heard—tapping on the message begins playing the voicemail. Tap the slider to fast forward or rewind a message; if you want to call the person back, just tap on the Call Back button.

Visual Voicemail on the iPhone

In a neat little visual cue, the iPhone lets you know if you have any voicemails waiting for you through a number counter that appears on the visual voicemail icon on the bottom of the phone screen. The number indicates just how many messages are waiting for you to listen to.

Phone calls

Tapping on the phone menu gives you several options to make a call—scroll through your contacts and tap the one you want and then tap the number; tap a number in Recents, Favorites, or Visual Voicemail; or use the onscreen keypad. You also have a number of on-screen options when you’re on a call.

Incoming calls When someone calls you, the iPhone gives you two options: Accept or Decline. Tapping the latter red button directs the call to voicemail. The green Accept button answers the call. If your phone happens to be in battery-preserving locked mode when a call comes in, pushing the unlock slider automatically answers the call.

The iPhone has a ringtones feature, allowing you to assign one of 25 included sounds to incoming calls or specific callers. What you can’t do, however, is use any of the songs you might have stored on the iPhone.

Onscreen options Six menu items appear during phone calls: Mute, Keypad, Speaker, Add Call, Hold, and Contacts. Mute turns off your microphone—you can still hear callers on the other end of the line. Hold prevents you and your caller from hearing one another. Speaker puts the call on speaker phone, and Contacts summons up your Contacts list.

When you jump around to other iPhone apps during a phone call, the green bar at the top of the screen allows you to return to the call screen.

That leaves Add Call, iPhone’s take on conference calling. When you’re on a call with someone else and want to add another caller, tap the Ad Call button; the first caller will be put on hold while your contacts list appears. Tap a contact to dial that number; the on-screen menu will change, with Merge Calls replacing Add Call and Swap replacing Hold. Merge Calls combines the two calls, while Swap reverses which caller you have on hold.

When you’re on a call, tapping the Home button allows you to access any other iPhone application. A green bar at the top of the screen lets you return to the call screen options mentioned above.

If you are already on a call when someone calls your phone, you have two options: Ignore and Hold Call + Answer. The first choice directs the incoming call to voicemail; the second places the current call on hold before giving you the choice to merge the two calls or swap between them.

[Jim Dalrymple is’s news director.]

This story, "Calling and Contacts" was originally published by Macworld.

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