Apple’s real innovation is killing the instruction manual

The new iPhone X has tons of new features that Apple hopes will set the tone for the next 10 years of phones. It ditches the home button and adds more swiping behavior, wireless charging, facial recognition unlocking, and an augmented reality capability that makes lifelike talking animal emojis possible.

For current Apple users, the new functionality from the new phone and the forthcoming iOS 11 may be slightly intimidating. But it needn’t be. Apple has a history of making stuff easy.

The new iPhone X is displayed in the showroom after the new product announcement at the Steve Jobs Theater on the new Apple campus on Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017, in Cupertino, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
The new iPhone X is displayed in the showroom after the new product announcement at the Steve Jobs Theater on the new Apple campus on Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017, in Cupertino, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Apple has long been known for “innovation,” in the most cliché use of the word, releasing new products that “change the game.” But in reality, the company has often simply taken an existing concept and made it extremely user-friendly.


Extreme user-friendliness has always been Apple’s greatest strength. The company’s first computers featured an actual virtual version of a physical “desktop,” which brought computers from a command-line standard to something visually appealing and easy to use. The iPod and the iTunes interface made MP3 players so easy it ushered the extinction of the CD. The iPhone and iOS simply made the smartphone easier.

A lot has been said about how Apple “democratized” technology by making it accessible, but understanding that is a key to understanding how the company moves. Any step forward that seems sudden and jerky is, at the very least, something that has been thought through from these perspectives — though the death of the iPhone headphone jack may have tested that.

Apple products have killed the instruction manual

If you think of all the Apple products you’ve owned, you may notice that something was missing from all of them: a real instruction manual. While Apple devices may not always be the most powerful or impressive by their specs, they’re almost always so user-friendly that they are intuitive. When they aren’t, the help functions are there as backup, and for the truly lost, there is a little-known section of Apple’s help website that’s a user guide.

Apple’s intuition-is-the-innovation philosophy is not new of course, dating back to the early Macintosh products and famously illustrated by Steve Jobs’s comments about how the 10 styluses on your hands (fingers) are better than a plastic pencil you have to carry around and learn to use.

The influence of Apple’s philosophy on products and tech has been enormous. Perhaps the most overt example is with Tesla whose founder supposedly uttered something that would have sounded at home in Steve Jobs’ mouth: “Any product that needs a manual to work is broken.”

But beyond expensive electric cars, this holds true for a slew of consumer tech devices and services who have accepted this instruction-less landscape as the new standard. When a device, software, or a web page does need to instruct, it often does the instructing itself — perhaps by a tour when you launch a device that displays a few arrows pointing to where everything is. Yet most of the time, even if you ignore and close out those windows, you probably still can figure it out. You can thank Apple for that.

Ethan Wolff-Mann is a writer at Yahoo Finance focusing on consumer issues, tech, and personal finance. Follow him on Twitter @ewolffmann. Got a tip? Send to:

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