iPhone Select, Copy, and Paste Proposal ¬

2007-08-09

John Gruber has gone and posted a discourse on bringing copy & paste functionality to the iPhone. In response to his article, I’d like to describe what I feel another good, Newton-inspired solution would be.

I’ve unfortunately only played with the iPhone little more than a dozen times, but I know the gestures pretty well thanks to Apple’s effort to make it quite intuitive. I also use my Newton MessagePad 2100 all day, every day, and so I’ve got it’s myriad of gestures down well. First, a description of how copy & paste and text selection works on the Newton OS 2.1.

The Newton Way

To select text or items:

  1. Tap-and-hold-for-two-seconds with the stylus to enter selection mode.
  2. While in selection mode, you draw a thick (think well-worn sharpie) selection line through or around the item(s)/text you want to select.
  3. When you lift the stylus it selects whatever item(s)/text you just struck-through/surrounded.

To cut selected text or items:

  1. Tap-and-drag the selected item(s)/text to any edge of the screen.
  2. A snippet of the text, image, or what-have-you will stay there, right where you left it, until you copy or paste it somewhere or you cut/copy something else.[1]

Copying works the same way as cutting except that one tap-tap-and-drags instead of merely tap-and-dragging.

Pasting is easy as:

  1. Tap-and-drag the snippet of the selected item(s)/text to the point where you want them it (the caret will follow the tip of your stylus).

The Proposed iPhone Way

What I propose would allow copy and paste for what I’ll call “power users” because, let’s face it, the iPhone is designed for people to not need copy and paste (as John describes as the basis for his analogy to the arrow-keyless original Macintosh keyboard).

To select text:

  1. Tap-and-hold-for-one-second to get the magnifying lens and place the caret (as is already implemented) and let go to make it stick.
  2. Then tap-tap-and-hold-for-one-second to bring up the magnifying lens again, but this time to make your contiguous selection and then let go to make it stick.

To copy text:

  1. Tap-tap-and-drag the selected text up to the status bar at the top of the screen (it’s always there).
  2. Either a snippet of the text selected hovers up there (or maybe an icon, something like the text clipping icon, instead), until you copy or paste it somewhere or you copy something else.

To paste text:

  1. Tap-tap-and-drag the text snippet (or text snippet icon) from the status bar area to where you want to place it. It should automatically go into the magnifying lens mode and paste it at the caret when you let go.

Now, what about cut? Well, honestly, I wouldn’t want to try to implement or make anyone use tap-tap-tap-and-drag or some nonsense like that, but the on-screen keyboard is always there when in a text editing application, so one could always hit delete/backspace. After all, the important functionalities are the copy and paste.

That main inspirations taken from the Newton OS is the tap-tap-and-drag as tap-and-drag is already used for all scrolling on the iPhone, as well as dragging the selection snippet to the status bar. The reason for the latter is that there is only one thing other than the home button (which is hardware) that exists on every screen and in the same place at all times: the status bar.

Tactile Memory Benefits

Now, this may seem hard to believe, but tap-tap-and-drag-to-the-status-bar really is a single gesture (as is tap-tap-and-drag-from-the-status-bar). The extra tap is essentially free because it’s at the same location as the initial tap and the drag finishes it off in one fluid motion. In fact you can probably just glide your finger right off the top of the screen and the iPhone would recognize that as you having dropped the selection on the status bar.

Even text selection is only two, albeit easy, gestures: tap-and-hold-for-one-second and tap-tap-and-hold-for-one second. Of course, the single second of holding doesn’t really count either because it’s up before the user really has to think about it and then they are immediately in the magnification lens mode.

Part of the reason to go with single gestures like this is the tactile memory benefits that you get from it. Having to click a copy/paste button on the keyboard (even on a window that pops up as suggested here) would pull the user out of the flow of their editing thought process and into more of a hunt-and-peck thought process. It would drastically interrupt their editing process at every single copy and paste.

This is all just my take on it, but it seems pretty natural to me.

Update: Fitt’s Law says that my suggested copy operation (although not the select & paste operations) will be faster because the selected text will likely be a somewhat larger target and the destination for the gesture (i.e. the top of the screen) is a damn easy target to hit.

Of course, the selection and paste operations require more concentration and work on the user’s part as placing the caret at it’s target location is trying to hit a very specific and small target. However, Apple’s made it a little easier by providing the magnification lens feature and it’s something that takes a lot more thought from the user anyway: “Where do I want to start my selection?”, “Where do I want to end my selection?”, “Where do I want to paste this text in?” All those require enough thought that most users wouldn’t worry as much about the speed of the operation as they will the content.

The action of putting the data into and taking it out of the clipboard is the action that needs to be, and is, most optimized.

1 There are, of course, utilities that will turn on multiple clipboards, but that’s beside the point.

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