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Apple Watch: Help!

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Once upon a time, every Apple product shipped with a big manual (well, some were bigger than others). Even software - I remember the first time I got the pro audio software Logic, most of the box was filled with extensive manuals. And yes, I did read them. Most people didn't, though.

Finally, it must have dawned on Apple that most people weren't reading them and that a lot of paper and ink, and weight and packaging, was being used for nothing. At the same time, of course, Apple was shifting to an online delivery model. Indeed, whereas Logic once comprised several densely-packed DVDs you had to put in the optical drive one after the other over an hour or two, now you can just buy it in the Mac App Store for NZ$256.99 - which is much cheaper than it used to be.

The savings come from online delivery, principally. No boxes, no shipping, no stock to be held in shops, no DVD encoding and production, no complex packaging to design, print, fold, pack - and no manuals.

Trouble is, how do you get any help if you have an Apple device or software? On Macs, of course, there's built-in help. The Help menu is always at the right of any other application menus (File, Edit etc). It works in two ways: if you type in a help topic, and there's a menu item that relates to it, a blue pointer appears when you mouse over the first selections in the drop-down menu and points, literally, at the menu item in question, showing you where it is. At the same time, by the way, every menu item shows you which corresponding command-key combo initiates the same thing, if there is one. Learning even five or ten of the common ones will speed up your Mac use dramatically.

The second part of the Help menu is the Help system itself, listed under Help Topics. These may be for the application you're in or several - for example, type in 'cut' and you also get the help library for Final Cut Pro X listed, should you have that. This launches a help library window that lets you specifically search through a manual (by proxy, anyway) for the topic. Perversely, that window stays on top and in front of everything else on your screen. I've never understood this behaviour as it's bloody annoying, especially if you only have one little screen. In other words, if you click on a window you can see behind the Help window, the Help window still stays in front of it, unlike for any other situation when the window you click on immediately takes precedence. I've always found that bizarre, but there you go. The only way to manage this is to minimise the Help window into the Dock by clicking it's orange button at top left, which means it's instantly accessible without having to reload should you be requiring some repeated looks at the help files.

However, recently, a new source of help has become quietly available, and that's iBooks. Should you want an old-style manual, you might be surprised by what you can find here. I mean, they look like Apple's former printed manuals (which were uniformly excellent) except they're electronic texts, of course, that you have to read on screen, unless you seriously want to print them out and bind them anyway.

To find them, launch iBooks on Mac or iDevice, click Store, and type in your topic. Most of these are third party (ie, not by Apple), but some actual Apple manuals do exist. There are free Apple manuals for iPad in iBooks form, like 'iPad User Guide for iOS 7.1' and 'iPad User Guide' and the equivalents for iPhone. There is no Apple manual for MacBook Pro, but there are several by third parties (from $2.99 to $24.99) but there is the free 'MacBook Pro with Retina Display' by David Moore. Other books cover many other topics like 'The Free Mac Classroom', 'Which Tablet to Buy?' 'An Introduction to Mac OS X' and even 'Turbo Windows', presumably for those with iPads to read it on, but a PC on the desk.

Software-wise, for Final Cut Pro X, for example, there are books from free through $2.99 to $10.99 up to $44.99. The range includes Edgar Rothermich's excellent Visual Guides for $10 and $11 - he also makes them for Logic. There's 'The Newbies Guide to Final Cut Pro X' for $2.99 and the 'Focal Easy Guide to Final Cut Pro X' for $38.99. I suggest starting with a free or cheap one before ponying up more money, unless someone highly recommends something to you. Another advantage of iBooks, for learning purposes, is that you can add your own notes (and they sync between iBooks on your Mac and iBooks on iDevice) and also highlight passages. Just drag over some text and choose a highlight colour from the resulting pop-up, or click Add Note and start typing.

For Apple's Pages, there's 'Pages on the iPad - Tips' (free), a couple of pretty cheap examples, and lots of novels with the word 'pages' in their titles, so click a title and check before you 'buy' (and 'buy' is what it says even when it's free, but no, Apple isn't going to secretly take your money if the price field said 'free').

So this is a rich resource which I do recommend you check through. And quite how 'Riding Desire: Alpha Bad Boy Biker Boxed Set' got into that list I really don't know - but it does serve to show the range of books available now in iBooks. Er, and that's just $4.99, should you be interested.

For the rest, it depends how you like to learn. With a Mac, it's handy having an iPad next to you with manual-style text on it - it's pretty much like having a book, except when you open it next time, it opens on the page you were on and you can add your own notes without messing up and dog-earing a book. I get this on my Mac with iBooks anyway, since I have two monitors (the MacBook Pro's built-in one plus an external).

For myself, I'm a big fan of the Take Control series - some are in iBooks like the free "Take Control of Getting Ready for iBooks Author' whereas 'Take Control of iBooks' by the excellent Sharon Zardetto is the more usual (for this range) $11.99. If you can't find the Take Control title you were hoping for, check at the Take Control site.

These are PDFs, so if you buy off the site, you can drag and drop them onto the iBooks icon in the Dock on your Mac to install it into the iBooks library for further reference. I'm also a fan of MacProVideo, which lets me buy instructional videos I find really great to learn from. I can refer back to these and do, constantly, for Logic and Final Cut (you can also choose to subscribe and watch the videos online).

An alternative is lynda.com, as MacProVideo concentrates on instructionals for audio-visual software. Good luck!

(There are also other people, like me, who can train you - if you know good ones in New Zealand, let us know in the comments.)

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