Finding Apple’s missing User Guides

| How-To

Today's Apple gear doesn't come with any more documentation than is absolutely necessary, but that doesn't mean that Apple skimps on the user guides.

Many years ago, when I bought my first Mac, it was accompanied by a beautiful manual that gave me color instructions for how to hook it up, turn it on, and run the software included in the box. The documentation that came with that Mac and many Apple devices that followed set the bar for what I and countless other Apple users expected when we bought new hardware. 

The documentation was important. For many users, it was their first experience with a computer, let alone a Mac. They needed to understand how the mouse moved the cursor on the screen, how the keyboard worked, what "click the mouse button" meant.

These days most of us have enough experience using Apple products and other other computers, phones and tablets that a lot of what's in those guides isn't necessary, anyway. And by not including documentation, Apple helps reinforce the idea its products are so intuitive to use that you just don't need documentation.

That's not to say that Apple doesn't produce really gorgeous, helpful, complete documentation for its products. It just doesn't print it and stick it in the box. Fortunately, there's a solution, and it's built right in to every iPhone, iPad and Mac.

It's called iBooks. 

Apple's iBooks on the Mac

Apple's iBooks on the Mac

The iBooks app — resident on all Macs equipped with OS X 10.9 "Mavericks" and higher, and resident on all iOS apps running iOS 4.3 or later — provides you with access to millions of books, many of which are free. "Free" includes all the user guides Apple has produced.

Apple doesn't just publish user guides in English, either. You can find Apple documentation in Spanish, French, Russian, and many other languages.

I work in an iPad and Mac reseller and we get complaints from some of our customers — often the older ones, if I had to generalize — about the absence of documentation included with today's products. It's great to be able to show them iBooks — typically on the device they're buying — and show them that the old user manual is alive and well.

Apple's iBooks on the iPhone

Apple's iBooks on the iPhone​

What's more, Apple periodically updates product documentation to reflect changes in new operating system releases, highlighting new features and newly exposed functionality. So check back frequently if you're looking for updated user guides. 

Here's another good reason to peruse iBooks for Apple manuals: Researching a new purchase. Forewarned is forearmed, they say. Download the accompanying user guide for the product you're thinking about buying, to get a better sense of what it does and how it works.

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You’re right, Peter.  grin

I’d like to add:

Many apps also have elaborate user guides. The file format may vary: iBook, PDF.
You can add the guides in these formats to your collection of iBooks and have them downloaded on your devices.
I happen to keep user guides of many devices in the cloud. I may add them to Google’s Play Books rather than iBooks, as I want them available on non-Apple devices as well.

I tend to have third-party books on computer hardware, operating system versions and more complex applications. It’s like seeing with two eyes instead of one.


For the person opening and setting up their first Mac( I’m thinking my 87 year old father ), having a user guide is beneficial. These folks often don’t have( and don’t know they need ) access to other computers to read the setup documentation, so they wonder if their knowledge is sufficient to complete the setup. IMO the removal or reduction of printed documentation reflects Apple’s effort to lower expenses; being able to tout friendly environmental policies is secondary.


(reacting to brilor, in addition to my earlier comment to Peter)

Yes, something to get you started is at least beneficial.

I do remember being guided through the setup of my Apple devices. I also remember some snippets of paper in microscopic font size being included with products. Probably obligatory legal notices, maybe something targeting the user getting started, too - I don’t know.
That’s another reason (becoming the main reason) for me to collect electronic editions of user guides (and other print): being able to adjust the font size, to have the device look for a keyword, to have a chance of seeing images in color rather than being printed in black.

But I would surely have enjoyed printed help regarding input: concepts like long-clicking (like to produce accentuated letters, probably highly useful upon personalizing your device if you have accents in your name) and the use of the modifier keys.
Devicewise, What You See is just one more or less relevant clue of What You Get!

(Depending on what to count, I got my first computer (running MS-DOS) in 1986 or even 1983 if “alphanumeric” is the criterium, entered the Apple ecosystem in November 2011 through the iPad 2, unpacked my first Mac around November 2013.)

Ian Sillett

‘And by not including documentation, Apple helps reinforce the idea its products are so intuitive to use that you just don’t need documentation.’

This may help Apple to reinforce this idea, but that doesn’t make it true. As two luminaries of Apple User Interface Design, Don Norman and Bruce Tognazzini, say in their article “How Apple Is Giving Design A Bad Name”:

‘people tend to blame themselves for the shortcomings of their devices: “If I weren’t so stupid . . . !”’

iBooks and pdf manuals are great for some of us but physical manuals should still be an option, perhaps with a postage-paid request card enclosed with all new hardware. After all, the books are already written. Trying to read instructions on how to use a device on the device itself is harder!

Pointing out the availability of iBook manuals is great, but I think there should still be a physical book option.

Ian Sillett

I had written a longer comment but it disappeared when I clicked ‘Submit’!

“These days most of us have enough experience using Apple products and other other computers, phones and tablets that a lot of what’s in those guides isn’t necessary, anyway. And by not including documentation, Apple helps reinforce the idea its products are so intuitive to use that you just don’t need documentation.”

See this article by Don Norman and Bruce Tognazzini for a reasoned disagreement:

Ian Sillett



Hi, It’s sounds funny that many apple devices do have good User Guides so you can read them with iBooks, however, I couldn’t find a user manual for the iBooks. The reason is that I found iBooks on Mac OSX is different from iBooks for iPad in terms of Notes management. Somehow I could not find the Edit Notes menu on Mac, which is available on iBooks on iPad.

I posted a question on Apple’s user forum, so far has not heard any reply yet.
Hope someone can enlighten me.


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