Is copy and paste really necessary on the iPhone?

Sections: iPhone, iPhone/iPod touch/iPad

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iPhone Copy Paste MockupIt seems every other pundit has lamented the lack of copy and paste functionality on the iPhone, but a month after its release, the iPhone, sans copy/paste, is selling by the millions. Given that the iPhone is designed for less strenuous tasks than the average desktop computer, it begs the question: does the iPhone even need to copy and paste?

The answer to that question may be no. Mozilla Labs this week announced a new interface coming for the Firefox browser. Called Ubiquity, its purpose is to eliminate the need for endless menus and preset function buttons in toolbars. Instead of highlighting text and then clicking a button to interact with the selected text, Ubiquity allows users to highlight text and then type a natural speech phrase. Users can highlight a paragraph on a website and type, “IM to Mom.” Ubiquity pipes the text from the browser directly to an IM client, which opens a new message to the contact labelled “Mom,” and pre-populates the highlighted text in the body of the message.

With the iPhone’s Mac OS X underpinnings, the ability to share data between programs comes quite naturally. The Application menu in all Mac OS X programs offers functionality similar to Ubiquity, allowing users to share highlighted data easily in an e-mail, via a bluetooth device, as a sticky note, and so on. Any application can create an entry in this menu, allowing users to funnel selected text/graphics from one application to another. Implementing this functionality on the iPhone is as simple as finding the best way to present the choices to the users: a pop-up menu, a series of gestures, or some other as-yet unimagined bit of UI candy.

In an age of social networking and Web 2.0 user-generated content, copy-and-paste begins to feel very…well…last century. Is Apple really dragging their feet, or is copy-and-paste the next iMac? The original iMac dropped support for a then ubiquitous technology: the floppy drive. Critics berated Apple for such an obvious mistake, and yet within a few years the floppy drive went the way of the dinosaur. Is Apple behind the times, or riding the wave of the future? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

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  • Adam Fisher-Cox

    Copy and paste may not be needed, but the ability to highlight text most certainly is.

  • Doug Berger

    When I had my Treo, copy paste was a very heavily used feature. Now with the iPhone, I can't even copy a URL to send it to someone. I agree that they could add some functionality to avoid needing copy/paste all-together, but until they do that, I WANT MY COPY/PASTE BACK!

  • Marc Silverman

    Copy could be implemented in a way similar to the current "text revise" magnifyer – dragging across text would highlight it.

    Paste could be a choice to drop that copied text anywhere.

    The needed commands can be right in the text pop-up where it now says "Previous, Next, and Done."