Which iPad Manual Rules The Roost?

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This story first appeared in Cult of Mac Magazine.

In Apple’s drive toward simplicity, one of the things which fell into the category of “things we can do without” were physical paper manuals.

While the Cupertino company does offer a 140-page online User Guide — which provides a passable intro to using your iPad (and currently has the advantage of being one of the few iOS 7.1 guides around) — Apple’s refusal to create manuals has fostered a cottage industry with rival products.

With the iPad  recently celebrating its four-year birthday, Cult of Mac figured the time was right to dive into a few of the world of third-party “how to” guides to find out which — if any — deserve a place on your physical bookshelf (people still have those, right?) here in 2014.

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iPad: The Missing Manual

Coming with ringing endorsements from tech royalty (Kevin Kelly!), this would seem to be pretty much the Holy tablet for tablets. Written by New York Times tech columnist J.D. Biersdorfer, The Missing Manual is the definition of a populist iPad manual. When the front cover states that this is “The Book That Should Have Been In The Box,” it is not because the book is one that will turn you into a master of the iPad, but because were Apple still to produce manuals this is the kind of thing that would likely be produced: an iPad manual for the man or woman on the street. (Admittedly Apple would have done the whole thing with more minimalist graphics and fewer typos, of course.)

The Holy tablet for tablets.

The sixth and latest edition of the book was released late last year in time for Christmas. As such, it misses out on iOS 7.1, which didn’t arrive until March this year. Since iOS 7.1 was only an iterative improvement and not one on the level of jumping from iOS 6 to iOS 7 this isn’t a major fault — but it’s another reminder about the futility of printing paper manuals in an age of over-the-air updates. To be fair, O’Reilly books (of which this is one) does update its files with corrections and additions along the way — and give you lifetime access to these, but if you’re an owner of a hard copy it’s another reminder of why Apple might have done away with physical manuals to begin with.

The O’Reilly book series is certainly better than the Idiot’s Guide series, and have steadily been gaining ground over the past decade. While there are some neat tricks which can be picked up (am I, embarrassingly, the only one to just be learning about the iPad split keyboard at this point?) a lot of the advice is incredibly straightforward (how to turn the device on and off) in a way that will likely feel redundant for the overwhelming majority of Cult of Mac readers. Who presumably had to work out how to turn their machines on in order to navigate to this page.

Cult of Mac rating: 4/5

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The iPad Air and iPad Mini Pocket Guide

The iPad Air and iPad Mini Pocket Guide looks like one of those city tour books that would tell you where to sleep on a budget when visiting Cupertino — or which San Francisco electronica club houses Jony Ive and his Industrial Design cronies when they’re not working out how to make things smaller and flatter. It’s written by Jeff Carlson, who sadly (although understandably) turns out to be the Jeff Carlson behind books like The OS X Mavericks Pocket Guide and Canon EOS M: From Snapshots to Great Shots rather than the Jeff Carlson behind thrillers like Plague War and The Frozen Sky. Which is a shame because I was really excited about a techno-romp about Tim Cook and his iPad saving the world. But no matter.

There is one failing, however — and sadly it’s a major one.

The iPad Air and iPad Mini Pocket Guide — now in its fifth edition — was published December 30 last year. Coming in at a miniscule 5×7 inches, this is the perfect guide for the iPad owner with small hands and a sense of self-confidence to maintain. As a guide it’s passable. At 288 pages, it’s not as long or as in-depth as some of the other guides out there, but the information that is featured is surprisingly comprehensive.

There is one failing, however — and sadly it’s a major one. The book is in black and white, which renders many of the screenshots incredibly difficult to make out, particularly when distinguishing between icons on an already small page size. It’s not enough to ruin the total package, but like a phone that cuts out because “you’re holding it wrong” it sure does make it inconvenient.

Cult of Mac rating: 3/5

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iPad Mini User’s Guide: Simple Tips and Tricks to Unleash the Power of your Tablet

You know those books that are all setup and no payoff? That describes iPad Mini User’s Guide: Simple Tips and Tricks to Unleash the Power of your Tablet to a tee. Don’t get me wrong: even three books into my overview of iPad manuals, I was already feeling bad for authors who have to come up with new and tantalizing ways to describe a book that — at its core — is one of a vast subgenre of similar volumes all trying to achieve the same task. With that being the case, who can blame authors for making use of a bit of hyberbole (cyberbole?) here and there.

At 92 pages this is by far the shortest of the iPad guides.

At the same time, a book which promises tips and tricks that unleash the previously hidden power of your iPad does suggest to me something that goes beyond simply how to set up your device. As tricks go, that’s fairly basic on the “pick a card, any card scale.”

At 92 pages this is by far the shortest of the iPad guides I’m covering for this review, and if the “trick” in question is how exactly author Shelby Johnson has managed to compress the 400 pages of Biersdorfer’s The Missing Manual into just a quarter of that, the answer is that it doesn’t.

The book does offer acceptable guides on subjects like creating an Apple ID, setting up Facebook, reading Kindle books, and downloading Google Maps — but there’s precious little else for once you have done all of this.

Cult of Mac rating: 2/5

This story first appeared in Cult of Mac Magazine.

About the author

Luke DormehlLuke Dormehl is a UK-based journalist and author, with a background working in documentary film for Channel 4 and the BBC. He is the author of The Formula: How Algorithms Solve All Our Problems, And Create More and The Apple Revolution, both published by Penguin/Random House. His tech writing has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, Techmeme, and other publications. He'd like you a lot if you followed him on Twitter.

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