TiPb Asks: How Would You Implement Cut/Copy and Paste on the iPhone?

Two years since Steve Jobs pulled the original iPhone from his pocket at Macworld 2007, and still no cut/copy and paste functionality, and none in sight. Head of iPhone Marketing, Greg "Joz" Joswiack famously said it wasn't a priority. Still, we've seen both the similarly capacitive touchscreens, Google Android G1 and BlackBerry Storm, show off versions of (multi-)touch based cut/copy and paste. We've also seen some magnifying-loop-based proof-of-concepts and independent end-runs around the omission both via shared frameworks and JavaScript bookmarklets, but still nothing official, nothing from Apple.

One sometimes bandied-about suggestion as to why the iPhone still lacks cut/copy and paste is because Apple hasn't figured out an elegant solution. They want a simple gesture that can be used quickly, easily, and consistently in any app, and is as intuitive to the user as pinch to zoom.

Well maybe we can help them out. If we want to see iPhone OS 2.3 at Macworld, or even iPhone OS 3.0 at WWDC in June 2009, how should they do it? What gestures should they use? What procedure should they implement?

If you were Steve Jobs, striding down the deep, dark sub-basement hall to the secret iPhone development lab, how would you tell the terrified techies to "just make it work"?

Have something to say about this story? Leave a comment! Need help with something else? Ask in our forums!

Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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TiPb Asks: How Would You Implement Cut/Copy and Paste on the iPhone?


I noticed over the last couple of months some of the games in the app store using a drag method similar to what intelli screen in cydia uses. The method could use this to fingered approach to drag a box over what you need and then a simple double tap to highlight the area.
I know I'm probably repeating what a lot of people have already said, yet this does seem to be the elegant solution.

Something similar to what magic pad has, maybe add a button or row on top of the keyboard. Although that may take up more viewable space for what ever it is your working with.
I had an idea about it a couple days ago. I thought, maybe one tap and hold will bring up the magnifying glass to allow you to zoom to move through the text. If you double tap then hold the magnifying glass still comes up, but this time it selects/highlights text. Then once highlighted a pop-up would appear on the keyboard with the copy/cut/paste options for what you want to do with that text.
To paste saved text in another app/text box you double tap in the space, then the bar comes up again with the paste option.
Any good?

If i was the developer, i would have a button to enter copy/paste mode. copy, paste, cut buttons appear. then single tap at the begin of the text u want to copy, single tap again at the end of the text. double tap would select a single piece of text surrounded by spaces.

simple! just tap and hold like you normally would with the magnifying glass, get to the part of the text you want to select, then either hold the magnifying there for a few more seconds (or tap the screen with another finger) to let it know you want to select, then when you tap the selection, it brings up the menu to copy.
when you want to paste, you simply double tap a text box to bring up a paste menu.

amazing how a 30 year old function cannot be easily implemented in a next-gen device.
Does it only work in email? when does the "clipboard" clear itself? exiting mail clears it? can i copy an email and paste in safari?

i just want to be able to plug in my txt msgs or email that have address in the body to be able to plug them into the maps app for directions..
its a royal pain in the a$$ right now.

In Enigmo you cut the tool from its tool rack and paste it elsewhere. In weather we can rearrange our cities. Why not cut and paste? Oh and Steve tell your tech gnomes to give us iWork please.

it should be a combination of magnifying glasses and an hardware button, for instance the volume up, which changes function everytime you are in text input mode. So holding down volume up while marking the text conviently unter the glasses. Then it should work like I experienced in Trillian Multimessenger. By just highlighting a textfragment the highlighting disappears immediatly, but its memorized. Another Application again start the text input mode and place cursor with magnifying glass while holding volume down for paste.
This would only bring copy/paste but I could live without cut/paste.

the whole problem is that the iphone has no 'menu button'. PalmOS has drop down menus, Blackberry OS has the Blackberry menu button, Windows Mobile has tap+hold context menus and the Softkey Menus, Symbian has its two-button menus and whatever UIQ offers.
iPhone OS X has none of the above. There's no system function for offering 'menus', just the toolbars and then whatever a developer adds.
I am going to bet that anything added to allow copy and paste will involve the tap+hold feature that brings up the magnifying glass. Instead of just a magnifying glass, it will bring up some kind of UI that lets you move the text entry point, select text, copy, and paste it.

I like the trackpad "Hold to Select" with thumb idea. But I'd replace the Cut button with a "Select All" button, and replace the Cancel button with an "Undo" button. And I'd lose the picture icons... they're not consistent with the UI. They new buttons should all match the space button.
Nice idea, though.

Copy is mainly needed for text, so hold the text on the clipboard until it's used (as text it should have minimal impact on RAM).
Clipboard should only be forced to empty upon restart.
Regarding implementation, the magnifying glass could remain on the screen for a period of time (maybe .5 -1 second) allowing for the user to select it, and the select from the general (select, cut, copy, paste) options.

I don't see all the fuss about "Cut and Paste". I would think a better app would be the ability to send anything from the iPhone to a printer. At home, the office, library or what have you.

Quick suggestion...I think some of us are forgetting the screen can handle multiple fingers...thoughts?
(For right handers)With your pointer finger move the magnifier to the beginning of the copy/cut area then put your middle finger down next to your pointer finger and drag to the end of the area you want to copy/cut to highlight the selected text. Hold in that position for a few seconds (like when rearranging icons) then a menu will pop up, cut/copy. For left handers, switch middle finger and pointer finger.
To paste the text, use both fingers and tap and hold. (Or tap twice?)

I would cut a big f**k you and then then paste it straight to Apple for taking so long. That's how I would use it

Two fingers won't work if you're highlighting to the right far edge of the screen and the second finger falls off the screen. Unless Apple made it so that once the highlighting process started it would then follow the first finger to the end point... making it so you could release the second finger during highlighting.

I agree with some of the thoughts saying, you tap and hold to bring up mag glass, then if u put another finger on the screen it goes into highlight mode and you move that finger to finish the highlight, when u let go a prompt comes up and asks if you want to copy. It should be simple and should be a priority,

The only problem with that is if the sentence you want to highlight begins with something short word, like an "I" and starts at the very end of a line (far right of the screen), there would be no way of placing two fingers over it ... the second finger would be completely off the screen.

Since the keyboard is already down there you could have a button on the keyboard to the left of the done button that says copy then after you press it you could highlight text and then press the button again to paste.

Copy and paste has not been Implemented because the iphone cannot multitask and save information that can be used in two programs. There is a reason why such a simple task is difficult on the iPhone, you cannot save data from one program and bring it to another. It is a critical design flaw from making the iPhone a real productivity device. I wish they put more thought into making the iphone efficent rather than just cool looking.

I believe you're incorrect. The iPhone multitasks perfectly well. It can play iPod or streaming music while surfing the web. It can send pictures or URLs from Photo or Safari to Mail. It can drop you out of iPod, answer a call, let you surf the web or send an email while on the call, and then drop you right back into iPod when you hang up.
However, Apple doesn't allow 3rd party Apps to multitask, just their own built in Apps. This is not a design flaw, it's choice (and perhaps wrong-headed) in the age old battle between security and convenience, control and chaos.
Bottom line, however, there's nothing architectural about the iPhone that prevents cut and paste, just arbitrary Apple (same way SDK can access contacts but not calendar).

It's gotta be something to do with holding down your finger.. Like how the image saving works. Because although iPhone touts multi-touch as it's main innovation, it should be a command easily performed with one finger. Something you could do with a thumb even, for when you're not typing.

Swipe (any direction) then tap+hold to choose start point with magnifying glass. Swipe tap+hold to choose end point. When you release you get a pop up that offers cut/copy/paste. If there's something in the clipboard it should offer paste/continue on the first swipe tap+hold choose and release.
That's one finger, the gesture works anywhere on the screen.

Why not just holding the down button ?
(because it's the most easy to acces with both hand when using the other one for touch purpose)
When using the magnifying glass hold it to enter into selection mode.
Then you just have to drag the magnifier to highlight he text.
When releasing the down button popup the cut/copy/paste dialog box.
I just want 1€ for any new iPhone sale with this feature.
"En France, on à pas de pétrole mais on à des idées !"

@ Rene Ritchie,
The iPhone does not multitask very well if at all. Yes you can talk on the phone while on the internet, listen to music while doing some basic stuff but thats not "real multitasking". Multitasking is using two or more processes at once and using common files between them. Can the iPhone be signed on G-Chat while answering an email... NO, can the phone share any information between apps, No... not really, which is the biggest reason why they haven't implemented copy and paste, if it were just a matter of having it done right Apple would have figured it out, however it is a design flaw, why can't people see that! The backbone of the iPhone is just not meant for that kind of work nor the sharing of information between Apps and the iPhone, they are just so detached. I would like to use copy and paste in ALL Apps not just some like there are now, using it in various word pad programs and whatnot. I am an iPhone owner but am not an Apple fan boy like many of the other people here. If you want to implement copy and paste in a good clever way check out WinMo 6.1, they have it done great. After highlighting, which Apple still doens't have, you hold the selected highlighted area and a drop down appears giving you options on what you would like to do... That is the best of both worlds.

@ Lowdown
You're probably right, iPhone is definitively not a professional tool, it's more like a toy.
I an iPhone, I also own a TyTn2, even if I like this item, I can't really consider it like something more than a toy. WM6 is a real professional tool. But really less sexy...

I think the most streamlined way would be just like you get the magnifying glass and get a small letter bar, you use that to make a selection over some text. then on the keyboard maybe on the numbers page have a small cut/copy/paste buttons or have a function key like the shift key then use the respective c/x/p keys. select one of those and place the curser where u want and hit the paste button.

There's an app called Magic Pad available that is essentially the Notes program with the ability to cut, copy, and paste. Though I would also like the ability to have flash run on the iphone, have the ability to stream video as well. I can hook up my xbox 360 to my home network and stream online netflix movies through it. Why not let the iphone do it?

I think it. Would be good if you could swipe Acrose the what u want to copy with 2 fingers and then flick 1 finger up to copy and the same finger down 2 paste