A few days ago, I came across an old article about the need to read your mobile phone user manual. The article was published on

The smartphone user manual has evolved

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A few days ago, I came across an old article about the need to read your mobile phone user manual. The article was published on MobilityArena five years ago by a guest contributor. It got me thinking. When was the last time I saw a smartphone user manual, much less open it to read?

smartphone user manual

Personally, I pay no attention to user manuals any more. I remember they used to be thick, and sometimes big items. I still remember some manuals from Motorola, Sony Ericsson and Nokia back in the early days. One had to study them like one was preparing for an exam in order to get familiar with one’s new device. However, in recent times, what you are likely to find in the sales box of your new smartphone is a small, 8-page quick guide, if you find any guide at all.

I distinctly remember that the Freetel ICE 2 sales box had one of those, plus another folded “top ten Android tips” pamphlet, introducing the OS to new users. I did not read either. of course, I am not new to Android OS or to Android smartphones.

Would I be wrong to say that I suspect that most smartphone users no longer read their device’s user guide? I strongly doubt it. I believe most no longer read them.

What Is responsible For The Disappearance Of The Smartphone User Manual?

Is it that people have gotten lazier and just could not care to read guides anymore? I do not think so. What I think is that as soon as smartphones became standardized and commoditized, users found little or no need for user guides any more.

Many years ago, there were several smartphone platforms and a wide array of hardware form factors. Remember Palm OS, Symbian UIQ, Symbian S80, Symbian S60, and Windows Mobile 5, as well as the different proprietary feature phone operating systems? Each of them had their distinct user interfaces. Then remember that with all those distinct user interfaces were phones with alphanumeric keypad, those with QWERTY hardware keyboard, those with a touch screen plus stylus, and more.

What we had then was bedlam – a Potpourri of interfaces, features and menus that looked and acted different across dozens of devices. Plus, it was early days in the mobile industry. The smartphone user manual regularly came in handy for most people.

Today, we have touchscreen Android OS powering over 80% of smartphones on the planet. For the most part, despite customisations, every Android user knows to pull down from the top of the display for the drop-down menu, where they can access notifications, and from where they can go into Settings, toggle Bluetooth, Wifi, Flight Mode and more.

In other words, no matter how deeply Android OS is skinned, there are key actions that are familiar across those modifications. Most people who have used an Android phone from TECNO can find their way around an Android phone by Gionee or Huawei or [insert your favourite Android smartphone brand name here]. Do you get the picture?

The remaining 20% of smartphones are largely iPhones – an even more standard platform than Android. Everyone who has used one iPhone can find their way around any other iPhone even if blindfolded. Okay, I exaggerate. But you get the picture.

The hardware is familiar: touchscreen. When was the last time you saw a non-touchscreen smartphone? Most of the user interfaces and menus are very similar despite customisations by manufacturers. With the exception of those who are new to a platform, most smartphone users have little need for the user guide.

Lastly, there have been no earth-shattering innovations in smartphone technology that requires a new, deep learning curve for most users. 2017’s cutting edge smartphones have bezel-less design; that hardly requires a manual. They now have dual cameras; need a manual for that? No; just point and shoot as usual. Fingerprint scanner? Nope; you get along just fine without needing a manual.

As a matter of fact, many smartphones made in 2015 would still be very much up-to-date with a simple software upgrade. That is how much of a plateau that smartphone technology has hit.

The Built-in Smartphone User Manual

Lastly, you may not have been conscious of it, but almost every menu in your smartphone has a quick tip or guide telling you what to do. As such, in a sense, the modern smartphone is its own user manual now. And we sill see more of that, especially as voice assistants and artificial intelligence on mobile devices become more mainstream and more useful.

The smartphone user manual has been evolving and you probably didn’t even know it. Eventually, those printed pamphlets will go away entirely and give way to on-device software that guides you.

Can you remember when last you read your phone’s printed manual?

Related read from 2012: Dear mobile phone user, please read the phone manual!

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  1. Even household consumer items like television set, hi-fi systems, printers often /sometimes do not come with (physical) manuals. For those that have a manual provided, it could come on a CD, or you could be prompted to go download it from a website.

    The reason for the absence of manuals for items generally may be two-fold..

    Simplicity… if a product is simple enough to use (like a smartphone) , what exactly would be in the manual?

    Cost.. Manuals add cost (man_hour, money, weight and space ) to the manufacturing process. In this era of cutthroat competition, whatever cost can be shaved off would be shaved off.

    I don’t read manuals myself. From car to laptop to air-conditioning units to generator, I just dive in. Why spoil the joy of discovery as we stumble, fumble and womble along?

  2. Oh yeah, I must agree that user manuals have become obsolete at this time. I guess it must have been important back then when I wrote that article.

    Advancement in technology has made life and the usage of gadgets easier. One can now pick up almost any smartphone and operate it seamlessly. This could be attributed to the simplicity OEMs introduce in the design of ther UI.

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