Ole Morten Halvorsen

July 21, 2008
Copy and Paste on the iPhone

One of the biggest complaints about the iPhone is the lack of copy-and-paste. After spending a few days with my new iPhone — yes, I bought one, even though NetCom sucks — it was obvious to me too, that copy-and-paste is desperately needed. I think John Gruber was right on the money in his post about the copy-and-paste issue:

Writing the code to implement a system-wide clipboard isn’t the hard part — as I wrote in August, the hard part is coming up with the right UI design for it. Whatever the UI for copy-and-paste for the iPhone OS eventually is, it’s very likely to remain as the UI for copy-and-paste on the iPhone for decades to come.

This got me thinking. How would you implement copy-and-paste on the iPhone? Say you want to copy a paragraph from a website in Safari and paste in a new email post, how do you see yourself doing that?

There’s only a few hardware buttons on the phone, all of which have dedicated functions, so those are out of the question. Many of the common and easy-to-perform finger gestures — like tapping, double tapping, etc — are already taken.

I’ve never owned a smart phone before. None of my previous phones had copy-and-paste functionality. That being said, none of my previous phones needed copy-and-paste. Please post a comment if you can explain me how copy-and-paste works on, Windows Mobile, or any other smart phone platform.

Here’s how I’d think copy-and-paste could work, from a user point of view.

  • Copy: double tap and hold to start selecting text, remove finger to copy.
  • Paste: Triple tap on any editable text field.


(Since my Photoshop skills are non existent, imagine the text to the right of the cursor is selected with a nice blue background.)

The iPhone already uses tap-and-hold in text fields — which brings up the magnifying glass — to move the cursor around. The copy functionality should do the same, expect select text instead of moving the cursor. When the user is done selecting and removes his/her finger, the selected text should blink once to indicate that it has been copied. A simple triple tap in any text input field would then perform a paste of the copied text.

I think the reason Apple hasn’t included copy-and-paste is simple: they haven’t gotten around to it yet. Between the SDK, 3G, GPS, the App Store, MobileMe and the new development tools, Apple probably just wanted to focused on what would be critical to iPhone’s success. The iPhone is pretty much sold out world wide, proving that copy-and-paste wasn’t that important for most people.

Even though every review of a new smart phone will have “iPhone killer?” in the headline, Apple is the one playing catch up when it comes to features. Nokia, Sony Ericsson, RIM, Palm have all had their products on the marked for a long time. The iPhone is only a year old, so I think it’s natural that some “obvious” features like MMS, copy-and-paste, voice dialing and video recording are missing.

Leave a comment

Commenting has been disabled. This entry was posted more than 2 weeks ago.

Created by Ole Morten Halvorsen.   Powered by Django.