What happened to instruction manuals?

Remember when products used to come with instruction manuals? You know, those little booklets that thanked you for buying the product, explained how it worked and provided helpful advice.

Even though today’s tech products have become more complicated, few come with more than a safety warning and a few tips for getting started. And that’s a shame, because the product designers work hard to create products that do so much, and few buyers will ever know what they’re missing. In fact, the manual that came with a $99 Air Fryer was more complete than the manual that came with my $900 iPhone.

Let me give you some examples to show how much we are missing by not being provided with thorough instructions, I’m going to challenge owners of iPhones by describing three features that I bet most of you are unaware of. These are not minor features, but ones you can use everyday.

The first is a feature that you can use whenever you use the keyboard to compose a message or enter words. Touch the space bar on the virtual keyboard and watch what happens: all of the letters on the keys disappear and the keyboard turns into a trackpad where you can use your finger to move the cursor around the text you are typing.  This works great for editing your text.

The second feature is something included in the latest software update. It essentially adds an invisible button to the back of your iPhone. Go to Settings > Accessibility and select Touch.  Go to the bottom of the list and select Back Tap. That allows you to select two different actions when tapping the back of the phone twice or three times. I have mine set to display Control Center with two taps and take a Screenshot with 3 taps. And it works even with a case on the phone.

While you’re in the accessibility section check out all the other things you can do. One of my favorites is the Magnifier. It’s the third item in the Accessibility list. Turning it on allows the built-in app, Magnifier, to use the camera to display an enlarged view of whatever it sees. There are even controls to adjust illumination and magnification and snap a picture.


Lastly, here’s a feature that’s great for watching videos and viewing photos on your TV from your phone, tablet and computer. It’s called AirPlay on Apple devices and Chromecast on Android and PCs. The feature uses WiFi to connect your device to your TV.

Apple devices have AirPlay built in, and many smart TVs have AirPlay or it can be added with a Roku stick. You need it on both your device and TV for it to work. On an iPhone or iPad go to the Control Panel and select screen mirroring and what’s on your device will magically appear on your TV including the sound. This is a great feature for those that do a lot of Zoom and FaceTime calls.

Pointing out these features are to simply note out how the great disparity between what are devices are capable of doing compared to how we use them. The failure of our not using them is not our fault, but the fault of the companies that produce the products from failing to tell us. In fact, there’s a wide disparity between what companies do tell us and what’s actually useful for us to know. During Apple’s recent introduction of iPhones we heard about none of these features. Instead we heard about how fast their processors were, something of little benefit to us.

Currently, the best way to learn of these new features is to try to find online tutorials, YouTube videos, purchase 3rd party books, or just Google about them. Unfortunately, you need to have an inkling of the feature before you can search for it.


Follow up

When I reported on the new iPhone 12 line, I advised waiting to see how their battery lives would be once they were tested. The reports are in and other than the large iPhone 12 Pro Max, all of the phones have slightly less battery life compared to their predecessors. So you may want to buy these phones for some of their new features, but don’t buy them for better battery life.



by Phil Baker