iOS Outlook File Attachment Snafu

iOS Outlook File Attachment Snafu: a reader asks…

This is a pair of screenshots from an iOS outlook email message. Both have a .vcf file attached. The first one shows a plain icon and is unreadable. The second one shows an icon like a business card and is readable.
Click to view larger

I use Outlook on my iPhone for email, tied to a Microsoft Exchange account. Sometimes I get emails with file attachments that I can’t open. It’s annoying and I’m not sure why. For example, I sent myself (from my work email to my personal email) a contact file, and the email came into my iPhone named “.vcf” and it can’t open, I can’t save it or do anything with it on my iPhone. Is there a way to make it work?

It sounds like there was a problem attaching the contact form to your original email. The visual indicator that something’s wrong is the icon of the file attachment. A standard contact form attachment has a simple graphic representation of a business card as its icon. The one in your email has a standard icon that looks like a blank piece of paper.

On a PC or Mac using Outlook, both those emails show a usable file attachment. It’s only on Outlook for iOS that the one you showed me is unreadable. I’m assuming you’re stuck with the file attachment you got (the bad .vcf file) and that you need to use it on your iPhone. Normally, you’d tap to open that file and it would show you a contact form, which when saved becomes part of your default addressbook. Since Outlook for iOS can’t view it, you can’t save it.

Here’s a workaround to get this contact into your addressbook:

First, you need to also have your email account setup to use in Apple’s Mail app, and you have to have your iPhone’s Contacts app configured to use the Exchange account as the default. To check that your Exchange contacts are the default addressbook on your iPhone, tap Settings>Contacts>Default Account and make sure that your Exchange account has the checkmark, not iCloud.

Click to view larger

With the above setup on your iPhone, you can use this workaround. Open the original email in the Apple Mail app and you’ll see the file attachment at the bottom of the email with a download button for the file attachment. Tap that download button and it will save it in your Files app, most likely in iCloud Drive. You can choose to save it in your Documents or Downloads folder, or if you tap Save Attachment you can specify another place (such as in OneDrive, Dropbox, or whatever other cloud-based file storage system you use). Let’s assume you saved it in your iCloud Drive’s Downloads folder.

Next, open the Files app on your iPhone. If you don’t see the vcf file, you may have to tap the Browse button at top-left and navigate to wherever you saved that file (e.g., the Downloads folder). You can also just type “vcf” in the search box to locate it. Once you can see the file icon on your screen, press and hold on the file icon and a menu will pop up. Now tap on the Share icon, and tap the Contacts icon. Now the contact form opens and there’s a Save button at the top-right. Tap that to save the contact into your default addressbook.

That’s it, you can now go back to Outlook and the Contacts tab and be able to find that contact in your addressbook. You can also see it in the Apple Contacts app, which should be showing you the Exchange contacts.

This workaround is required simply because neither Apple nor Microsoft are willing to put in the effort to develop their platforms and software for full compatibility between the brands. You could blame this on either Microsoft (who develops the Outlook app) or Apple (who makes the device you’re using to view the email), but there’s plenty of blame to go around for both of them. These two companies aren’t happy about having to make their products cross-platform compatible. Microsoft would rather you only use their devices and software, Apple would rather you only use their devices and software. Competition forces them to work together, but they don’t put near as much development effort into cross-platform features as they do for their own products.

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