You can use your iPhone to keep track of birthdays. (And your iPad too, but I'll just refer to the iPhone in this post for ease of reference.) This is obviously nice for friends and family, but it is also useful to remember that a client or colleague has a birthday coming up. Sending a quick email to say happy birthday and ask what is new is a nice way to stay in touch with former clients and others who you haven't seen in a while. The iPhone stores birthdays in a special field in the Contacts app that you might not even know is there, and displays birthdays in the Calendar app. Here are tips for handling birthdays.
First, you need to add the birthday date. For an existing contact entry in your Contacts app tap the Edit button at the top right corner. If you are creating a new contact, then you are already in edit mode. Scroll down to the bottom to find a button called "add field" with a green plus next to it. Tap that button and you will see a list of additional fields; scroll down until you see Birthday and tap that one.
You will now see a date wheel. Tap the month, day and year for the birthday. If you don't know the year, just below the current year you will see a "----" that you can select to indicate that you only know the month and day.
That's it. Now you have a birthday associated with that contact, and you'll see the birthday whenever you view the contact on your iPhone. That's nice, but what is really helpful is that this field also used by the Calendar app.
To see birthdays in the Calendar app you need to enable that calendar. Tap the "Calendars" button at the top left corner of the screen to select the Birthdays calendar in addition to your normal calendar.
Now, when you are looking at calendar entries on the iPhone, you will see birthdays listed along with other events. If you just want to browse upcoming birthdays, go back to the list of Calendars and only select the Birthdays calendar.
You can decide whether you want to always display the Birthdays calendar in addition to your regular calendar or if you only want to display birthdays when you manually turn that calendar on. The one small downside of having multiple calendars displayed at the same time is that the iPhone places a dot to the left of each entry to indicate, by color, which calendar it comes from. This is helpful, but it leaves a little less space to display the text in your calendar entries ... enough that you typically cannot see one letter in the event. For example, in the next two images, you can see what when I only have one calendar displayed I can see the "&" in my entry on March 24 and the "t" in the word "report" on March 25, but with the dots displayed I don't see those characters. You can decide how important it is to you to see only about 20 characters instead of about 21 characters in an entry. If that's not a big deal to you, then you might as well keep both calendars turned on all the time. I believe that the Calendar app on the iPad always displays the dot no matter how many calendars you have turned on, so this is just a consideration for the iPhone.
I've talked about using the built-in Calendar app, but I rarely use that app nowadays. I prefer the amazing $4.99 Fantastical app that I reviewed late last year. I can't even count all of the reasons that app is worth the $5, but one small reason is the way that it handles birthdays. Instead of just telling you that it is someone's birthday, Fantastical also tells you how old they will be. This feature seems so obvious and useful that I don't know why the built-in Calendar app doesn't include it too.
If you use a Mac, the Mac's built-in Calendar program syncs with the Birthdays calendar on your iPhone, and even shows you the person's age.
If you use a PC and you use Microsoft Exchange / Outlook, the birthday information from your iPhone/iPad will sync to the contact on your PC, but it will not also automatically show up in the Outlook calendar. You need to manually use your PC to add a birthday to an Outlook contact in the Details tab of a contact (or if there is already a birthday, re-save it) to tell Outlook to create a separate calendar event with the birthday. Unlike the iPhone and Mac, in Outlook the birthday event in the calendar is not linked to the contact; you can even delete the event from your Outlook calendar but it will not delete the birthday date saved in the contact. Perhaps at some point in the future, Microsoft will fix this issue with recognizing the birthday field when a contact is imported, but for now, when you add a birthday on your iPhone/iPad you will not see the birthday in the Outlook calendar on the PC.