On iOS text editing concepts and the keys to consistency

The video below shows an interesting concept, excellently rendered, for improving the speed and usability of text editing on iOS. Currently, to edit text in iOS, you have to poke at the screen until the right word is highlighted or the correct popup menu appears, and the drag handles to properly refine your selection. Like democracy, it sucks, but it sucks less than every other mobile implementation.

The maker of this concept video, Daniel Hooper, shows how a combination of on-keyboard gestures and shift-tapping could be used to greatly improve the speed and accuracy of text selection on iOS.

Unfortunately, text selection on iOS doesn't always enjoy the presence of a keyboard. And that's where this concept sadly breaks down for me. You can't have two different methods for selecting text, depending on whether or not the keyboard is available. Consistency is king. If you're selecting text in Safari with no keyboard, or selecting text in Notes with a keyboard, the method has to be as identical as possible or the user experience suffers.

Don't get me wrong -- improving gesture shortcuts to improve text selection would be great. It just can't be dependent on the state of the keyboard. Adding an additional layer of "expert" gesture shortcuts for when the keyboard is available is another possibility (much as the multitasking fast app switching gestures serve as "expert" shortcuts around the iPad Home screen). However, text selection already uses gestures so the current gestures would have to remain active, and it's very easy for gestures to start to collide.

All that said, I LOVE this stuff. Seeing and discussing fantastic UI and UX concepts is absolute candy. It doesn't matter if any one concept or another is perfect right out of the box, it matters that it brings attention to issues of usability, and creates discussion.

So discuss away. Would you be interested in Apple introducing text selection like this? If so, hit the via link for instructions on how you can ask Apple to do just that. Then jump into our Mobile Design Forum and let us know how you'd improve iOS text editing.

Source: @danielchooper via iDownloadBlog

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

  • Hi rene I'm twitter user @emil_vivi, we've mention each other at twitter about this and I think you're right.
    The concept was great, but not perfect. Like you said, consistency is the king, and that's one of the reason why iOS is a big success.
    I hope Apple see this concept and then enhance it with better implementation.
  • One of the most annoying aspects of iOS is the inability to place your cursor within a word to correct a typographical/spelling error.
  • I place the cursor by holding down my thumb until the magnifying lens opens, then sliding to the place where I want to add or replace letters. I presume that's a standard feature, but perhaps I am missing the point of your concern.
  • "You can’t have two different methods for selecting text, depending on whether or not the keyboard is available"
    Who said they have to be exclusive? Both methods can work at the same time - the current direct selection method and the keyboard selection method (if the keyboard is available). That's not inconsistency (the direct selection would always work), it's just an additional option for 'power users', a demographic which Apple, unfortunately, often refuses to cater to.
    On another note, why can't I do something like hold cmd-x/c/v (or whatever the key is to switch to the alternate keypad) to cut, copy and paste? Additional keyboard shortcuts in general wouldn't be a bad thing at all.
  • ^ This. I would welcome some more keyboard shortcuts that improve the whole typing experience on iOS.
  • You can't have two different methods for selecting text, depending on whether or not the keyboard is available
    Of course you can. Does it bother or confuse you on your Mac that you have you have use your mouse to select text when viewing a web page in Safari, but you can use either your mouse or shift-arrow-keys to select text when entering text in Safari, or in any other program?
    Same principle.
    It is not the presence of a keyboard that is the trigger, it is the intended interaction of the user.
  • Echoing what those above have said, text selection is already different if you're using a physical keyboard. I use the Apple wireless Bluetooth keyboard with my iPad and use Shift + arrow keys to select, something you cannot do on the virtual keyboard and certainly not paralleled when selecting without a keyboard at all.
    In fact, there's inconsistency even when just talking about the physical keyboard. I can use Cmd + c/v/x to cut/copy/paste in some apps but not others, yet for the most part Cmd + b/u/i hardly ever works. if I'm going to use my iPad as a post PC device for productivity (which I try as much as possible to do at school for note taking, paper writing, reading, etc), then keyboard use has to become more efficient.
  • I'd be happy with the ability to do something as simple and basic as enter tabs using the on-screen keyboard! It staggers me that of all the text entry/editing apps I've tried on the iPad - Notes, Pages, iA Writer, Simplenote, Elements, etc. - only Pages allows you to enter tabs without an external keyboard. And even Pages does it in a slow and clumsy way, via a two-level pop-up menu you have to tap and hold on the screen to enter. There's three sets of character keys in the iPad's on-screen keyboard and not one of them includes a tab key.
    I'd happily trade the gimicky and almost useless dictation key next to the space bar for a tab key, or they could shrink the space bar and put a tab key there.
    Next up: on-screen arrow keys...
  • This could work with a for both editing text and selecting text. It would just require that an extra row of keys appear above the top row when editing text, and when selecting text (such as in safari) you have just a single row overlaid at the bottom of the screen. This extra row could contain the arrow keys, tab and cmd, option, or any other function keys. I mean we only have about 3 options available for selecting text on screen, there should be more to appear at the bottom. Get this done apple, even if the idea from the video isnt done, it would be at least nice to have an extra row appear in these situations
  • Wow, that was cool. I want.
  • The new SwipeSelection jailbreak tweak is immediately and totally intuitive on the iphone.