When you think of Apple’s most intriguing applications, Address Book probably doesn’t spring to mind. It offers anything but the sexiness of an iLife or iWork application. However, thanks to its close ties to Apple’s Mail and iCal, as well as to your iOS devices, it’s one of the applications you use most. Make the time you spend with it more productive by using these tips and tricks.

1. Prune addresses for use on the road

You know that you can sync your contacts to your iPhone, iPod touch and iPad, but you most likely don’t need to sync all of them. We’ve found it helpful to sync only those contacts that have both an email address and a phone number to the iPhone.

To do that, open Address Book, choose File  > New Smart Group and, in the sheet that appears, create two conditions: Email Is Set and Phone Is Set. From the pop-up menu at the top of the sheet, choose All so that the rule says Contains Cards Which Match All Of The Following Conditions. Click OK to dismiss the sheet and create the group.

You now have a smart group that contains just those contacts that have both an email address and a phone number. But you’re not done yet, because you can’t sync smart groups to iOS devices so you’ll need to convert them into a standard group. To do this, select all the contacts in the smart group. From the File menu choose New Group From Selection. This creates a standard (meaning, not smart) group from those contacts. In iTunes choose this new group you’ve created when you sync contacts to your iOS device.

2. Clean up your contacts

If you open Address Book and find multiple entries for the same person, it’s time to put things in order. Choose Card > Look For Duplicates. Address Book will do exactly that and, after looking, produce a sheet that tells you how many duplicate cards and entries it’s found. By clicking the Merge button in that sheet, you can merge those. Optionally you can also merge cards that have the same name but different information.

3. Always use the correct email address

Suppose you work at a company where you’ve established a social relationship with a select number of co-workers. If you prefer to use their company email addresses for business and their private addresses for out-of-hour activities, Address Book makes it easy.

Create a group that includes work friends, and call it something like ‘Social Workers.’ Select that group and choose Edit  > Edit Distribution List. In the resulting Distribution List window, you’ll see the selected group and the name of each person. The column header next to the list of members names should read Email (if it doesn’t, click on the header and choose Email). Locate the private address for each member and click on it, so that it becomes bold. This makes it the default address. Click OK.

When correspondents have multiple email addresses (for, say, personal versus work), Address Book’s groups and the Distribution List window can help

Now choose the group that you normally use to contact these people for work matters (this may be All Contacts). Locate these same friends and click on their work email addresses so that they too are in bold. This is now the default address for work correspondence.

When you wish to send a social invitation, send it to the Social Workers group. The invitation will be sent to their private address. Otherwise, select them from a workgroup.

You can use this same technique to configure default phone numbers and street addresses. Just select Phone or Address from the Email header in the Distribution List window and go through the same process.

4. Back up and share your contacts

Address Book provides many ways to share and back up contacts. If you wish to back up all your contacts, for example, choose File > Export > Address Book Archive. This creates exactly what it suggests – a complete collection of your contacts, which can be imported into another copy of Address Book (say, the one on your laptop or work computer) through the File > Import command.

You can also copy single contacts, multiple contacts, and single and multiple groups of contacts. To do so, select them in Address Book and drag them to the desktop. The item(s) will turn into vCard files, which generally work with all of today’s contact-management applications. (We say generally because there are still some programs that don’t support vCards that contain multiple contacts.)

5. Never miss a birthday

As much as you love your friends, family and associates, it’s all too easy to forget an important birthday. But, with the help of Address Book, Mail and Automator, you’ll never be caught short again.

Launch Address Book and choose Address Book > Preferences. Click the Template entry at the top of the resulting window, click on the Add Field pop-up menu and enable the Birthday option. Now work through your contacts. Click the Edit button at the bottom of each card and add birthdays as you go.

Launch Automator (in /Applications/Utilities) and, in the template sheet that appears, select iCal Alarm. Click Choose. Create a workflow containing the following actions: Find People With Birthdays (found under the Contacts heading) and Send Birthday Greetings (found under the Mail heading). In the Find People With Birthdays action, choose a time period – This Week, for example. In the Send Birthday Greetings action, enter a message – for example, ‘Have a wonderful birthday!’ If you like, you can also enable the Random Image For Each Recipient option.

Save and name your workflow. When you do, iCal opens, creates an Automator calendar, and creates your birthday greetings event. Move that event to an appropriate day and time, and make it a repeating event.

When the event is triggered, a new message is created in Apple’s Mail for each recipient, complete with a subject heading that reads: “Greetings from Yourname,” a “Dear Nameofrecipient” greeting, the message you entered in the Send Birthday Greetings action and the image you selected in that same action. These messages are created as drafts so you can adapt them to something more personal if you want. Then all you need to do is send them.