How to export Contact info from Palm Pilot/Treo to Apple iPhone 3G/4Gs

The basic technique here is to export all your Contact info from Palm’s format to Microsoft Address format, and then import from there into the Apple iPhone Contacts app. The best instructions I’ve found so far were here, but I’ve added extra gotchas below in case it helps others. Note: this only transfers Contact info, and does not transfer Calendaring, ToDo or anything else.

Before starting, you need to do the following:

  1. On a MS Windows PC, install palm desktop and iTunes. (If you primarily use iTunes on another computer, its ok to just install iTunes on the windows PC, do this one-off data transfer, and then throw away that iTunes installation).
  2. Start Programs->Accessories->AddressBook and make sure that the Microsoft Address book is empty. (Note: this is not to be confused with MS Outlook, which is very different!)
  3. On the Palm Pilot/Treo, look through all the contacts for the following gotchas:
    • If any contact has two entries of the same type (for example, a person with two mobile numbers, or two work phone numbers), you will need to manually remove/rename one of these numbers before you start. I noticed that any contacts with multiple entries of the same type ended up losing all but one.
    • If you have the same person listed multiple times in your Palm Pilot/Treo, this will cause an error later on. I discovered that I accidentally had the same person entered twice, in two different categories. These duplicate names caused errors later on in the export process, so its best to check and fix this before you start. Worst case, if you miss a duplicate, its quick and easy to just throw away all the conversion work and restart from the beginning again….but it sure it annoying!
    • Check for any occurrences of  ‘=  (single-quote followed by equals)  in your contacts, or attached notes. If you find this anywhere, you must change them to something else before you can continue. It seems that ‘= (single-quote followed by equals) is used as a delimiter somewhere in the conversion process, so anything after that gets cut from that specific person’s info, and never transferred.
    • “Custom fields” are not transferred, so you should either migrate that data to one of the “standard” fields, or make a note of them, and come back later to cleanup by manually copying from palm desktop into MS Address book.

OK, thats it. Now we’re ready to begin:

  1. Hotsync your Palm pilot/treo with the Palm Desktop one final time. Remember, backups are your friend!
  2. Start Palm Desktop and view the Address page. Select the contacts you want to bring over (ctrl-A on keyboard if you want them all), then choose File->ExportvCard… to save all your contacts into one single file on your desktop.
  3. Start Programs->Accessories->AddressBook
  4. Drag and drop the newly created file from your desktop into Microsoft AddressBook. You’ll be asked to press “ok” for each entry being imported into AddressBook. Annoying but its very quick.
  5. Unplug your Palm Pilot/Treo, and plug in your iPhone.
  6. Start iTunes. On the iPhone page, Info tab, choose to sync contacts with Microsoft Address Book and click Apply.
  7. Sync your iPhone with iTunes – this will in turn pull the contacts from the Microsoft Address Book.
  8. On iPhone, look in Contacts app, and verify that all your contacts transferred over correctly. Specifically, look for long attached notes to make sure nothing was truncated.
  9. Undo step (6) in iTunes.

Thats it!

Again, this only transfers Contact info; I’m still investigating exporting Calendaring, ToDo and other types of “legacy data” – any hints? 🙂

Big tip-o-the-hat to: and also Both were wonderful help!

All this left me wondering why Apple didnt provide an import utility to handle migrating from Palm Pilot to iPhone…or from BlackBerry to iPhone.  That would sure make it easier for business users to migrate over to iPhone. Oh well.

UPDATE: These same instructions worked great tonight when migrating a friend from a Palm Pilot to a new iPhone 4Gs. Added warning about custom fields, which I missed in this first blog. joduinn 04-dec-2011

5 thoughts on “How to export Contact info from Palm Pilot/Treo to Apple iPhone 3G/4Gs

  1. Thanks for this info. I found that any occurrence of the ” = ” (equal) sign, regardless of what preceded or followed it would cause any data following the equal sign to be truncated. Thanks again, Gary

  2. One additional note: in Vista I couldn’t find “Address Book” but there is a “Windows Contacts” found under Start>Programs>Windows Contacts. Hopefully this will do the same thing.


  3. Thanks – it worked well and I have now transferred all contact information – would really like to transfer the memos as I have lots of info there that I don’t want to lose.

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