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August 15, 1999|RENEE TAWA

So you bought a digital watch for its hip look. There's no shame in that. The tail-between-your-legs part tends to come when it's time to make it work, and those three little words crop up: Set the alarm. Twenty minutes later, that hip watch may not seem like such a good idea.

The folks at Live Manuals understand that. They built their Web site (http://www.livemanuals.com) for technophobes to give them a break from dense instruction manuals and also to give them a preview of an electronic product, its features and its user guide.

Using a mouse, you can click on images of product parts that simulate the way the real thing works. The site offers a picture of a digital watch face, for instance, and walks you through product features, such as how to change the date, start the stopwatch and set the darn alarm. Consumers will also be able to ask online questions.

"People don't have time to figure it out," said David Kirschner, chief operating officer of Live Manuals. "If they can't take it out of the box and use it, they're going to put it back in the box and return it."

Electronic companies like the preview idea, too, and anticipate a drop in returns and tech support calls. So far, three companies have signed up to post products on the site: Audiovox, JVC and Samsung. By the end of the year, several other companies and hundreds of other products are expected to be included.

The site is run by e-SIM, a Pasadena-based simulation software producer.

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