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Working with Contacts on Outlook Mobile for Exchange Users

(Apple iOS platforms: Office 365 and Hosted Exchange users of Outlook Mobile)

This post mainly applies to users of the iPhone. Android users don’t have to bother with these extra steps as Microsoft has greater access to the device contacts on Android than Apple choose to provide them on their platform.

Our Companion PostOutlook Mobile is recommended reading

We all know the benefit of having carefully curated contacts and if you’ve taken the very much encouraged step forward to running Outlook on your mobile devices then you may be having issues with contact management. It works just fine but you have to be aware of a few things and this post will help you with this.

After spending some time cleaning up contacts on my iPhone one weekend and noticed they remained in Outlook… None of my adds, edits or deletes had made their way back to my contacts in my outlook mailbox so I did some research into contact management on Outlook mobile for the iPhone and found some very useful things to know and I realised that if I can make that mistake then anyone can so I decided to share my experience here to benefit you too.

The fix is easy so at the end of this I will explain how to fix any incorrectly entered contacts.

The thing to know: Contact Sync between our Outlook Mobile and your iPhone contacts is a one way from Outlook to the iPhone Device Contacts which makes sense as your mailbox is always the MASTER COPY.

This means making changes to contacts in the iPhone Contacts App does not send the updates back to Outlook and the updates won’t sync back to your Exchange Mailbox.

Editing a Contact from your iPhone’s Contacts

If you open iPhone Contacts App and open a contact then your iPhone warns you the contact is Read Only and provides a clickable link to allow you to edit the contact via your Outlook App. Using this link means that your changes will sync back to your mailbox.

I recognise the change in this process may be a step to the left for some and not what you’re used to doing so here’s some screen shots showing common contact management tasks as performed on an iPhone.

Creating a new Contact

So, someone passes you their business card and you’re out and want to put it in your contacts…

What’s not clear is when you go to Contacts on the iPhone and create a new contact is that it won’t sync that back to your Outlook or mailbox and it won’t warn you that the contact won’t sync. If you do that then your contact is only going to exist on the device where you create it.
To add new contacts use your desktop/web versions of Outlook or the steps below in the Outlook App on your iPhone.

Personally I would hold their card and add it to my contacts via outlook so I can use a real keyboard but if you have to do it on the mobile then follow these simple steps.

Open Outlook (not your normal contacts) and then click search and then create as shown in these screens below.

Three easy steps to add a contact:

  1. click search
  2. click create
  3. enter contact details and click done to save.

Fixing & Cleaning Up Your Contacts

So after cleaning up my contacts on the iPhone and noting none synced back to outlook I have come up with a way to fix them.

If you have added contacts directly to your iPhone you will notice that these are not in your Outlook contacts. That may be desirable if these are personal contacts and not work related but I know I’d rather have all my contacts in my Outlook so they can be backed up and more easily sync to my next iPhone and so on…

Here’s what I did to fix this… the process is simple (yes it’s tedious but it’s simple…)


  • You are responsible for your local iPhone Contacts, if you delete them it’s very unlikely anyone can put them back unless you have them backed up to iCloud.
  • Please be careful with your contacts!

The 5 step process below is safe for your Outlook based contacts, these are in your Outlook mailbox and your mailbox is always the master copy.

In my case:

  • my outlook had always had the Save Contacts button selected and I was ok for my Outlook Contacts (the ones in my desktop app) would be my only record of any contacts.
  • my mailbox was not connected to Microsoft 365 via POP3 or IMAP so if you are using POP3 or IMAP then you may need to take additional steps to secure your contacts.
  • No Solve Business Services customers use IMAP or POP3 so if you are reading this and you’re already one of our happy customers then you can know you don’t use POP3 or IMAP to connect to your work mailbox.

The Five Steps:

  1. First remove any email accounts on your iPhone that are connected to your work account.
    • I removed my work email Account from my Outlook App (and I don’t have any other email accounts on the iPhone) and waited a few mins for the Outlook based contacts to disappear
    • Make sure you don’t still also have an Exchange Account connected to your work account in your iPhone passwords and accounts… It’s possible there may be one there if it wasn’t removed when you moved over to Outlook on the iPhone. If there’s an Exchange Account there then you should remove it.
  2. Next I went to Contacts on the iPhone and there was 20 or 30 contacts remaining, these were the ones I’d added directly into the iPhone Contacts app.
  3. Then I opened Outlook on a PC and checked each contact that remained on my phone against what I had in Outlook (my mailbox). Some I added, some deleted and some updated…
  4. Finally, when I was done with those remaining iPhone contacts which now all existed in my Outlook contacts on the desktop app (checked and double checked) I simply deleted them from my iPhone so I had a blank slate.
  5. Next I went back to Outlook and added my Work Email again with the Save Contacts enabled.

Our Companion PostOutlook Mobile is recommended reading

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