Copy and Paste – Do You Need It?

It’s Soap Box Time! Matt Miller over at ZDNet recently wrote an article about Copy and Paste. His question was whether or not people really need Copy and Paste. To me, this is really one of those “you don’t miss what you don’t have” sort of scenarios. Fifteen years ago, the number of people who would have “missed” the internet if it went away was pretty small. Today if the internet went away, entire corporations would go under, governments would fall, and scores of stores would go belly up in a few hours.

OK, so Copy and Paste isn’t quite like that, but my point is that no one will miss Copy and Paste on a device like the iPhone until they have the power it gives them. Want a good example? Think back to the release of the Windows Mobile Smartphone. People were having fits when they moved from a Windows Mobile Pocket PC. Many simple day to day tasks suddenly became a nightmare of keypad re-entry. Sure, the iPhone has a better keyboard than those early Smartphones but we have a clear test case where no one realized they needed something so badly until they had it, then had it taken away. In the end, guess which device got Copy and Paste?

Now I realize that Matt’s use scenario doesn’t really seem to support this. Clearly he doesn’t do a lot of copying and pasting, but a lot of users do. I for one am a heavy copy/paster. Many of our customers are as well. Furthermore, even hand entering one or two 50 character redirect URLs can make you hate your device. And is that really the sort of experience Apple wants their users to have?

Not having Copy and Paste also stifles the creativity of developers. It’s one more tool that a clever developer can use to make your iPhone experience even better. For instance, right now we can’t copy password and usernames into Safari on the iPhone. The best solution available? Write our own web browser and include it with eWallet! Talk about software bloat!

In some ways cutting back on choices can make life easier and better, but at other times it prevents you from getting the most out of an experience. In the case of Copy and Paste I absolutely believe it’s the latter.

People might gasp to hear me say it but there really are scenarios where Apple would do well to take some lessons from Microsoft’s experience!

20 thoughts on “Copy and Paste – Do You Need It?

  1. Rick Lobrecht

    I recently left the copy a password example as a reason copy and paste is needed. I don’t have an iPhone, so I haven’t seen eWallet on it, but I’m just trying to imagine moving back and forth between Safari and eWallet with each app (or at least eWallet) quitting every time it loses focus.

  2. Peter

    There’s no copy/paste on the iPhone? That is truly surprising to me. I can’t even imagine why that would be the case, especially if your data is already stored/visible somewhere in a format you want. I use it regularly for all sorts of reasons and could not fathom doing without copy/paste functionality on top of only being able to type on the screen with my fingers.

    I guess we’ll see what happens with the marketplace. I think that most of the iPhone is hype and you tend to be more of an Apple fan to own one (or just want to be “cool”), but that’s my opinion. I will admit there are some neat features and they’ve given the mobile device market a much-needed wake up call, but I still think it’s too limited and the headlines where apps appear/disappear from the store just make me more concerned that this is really something where you have little true control over your own device.

  3. J. Wagner

    I recently got an iPod Touch and have come to the realization an iPhone is most likely in my future when my current VZW contract is up. There is a certain elegance to the iPhone/Touch interface that my Windows Mobile PPC can’t match. And, now with the Exchange support out of the box I can use it for wok as well.

    But, yes, the lack of C&P has been a nuisance. Does eWallet allow the UID and PWD to be passed to Safari to support auto-logins? If not, it’s lost a lot of usefulness.

  4. Marc

    @Rick: eWallet remembers where you were. You still need to re-enter your password but it’ll take you back to the same card. Still, with no copy and paste it isn’t an ideal solution.

    @Peter: After a “bad breakup” with Apple after college in the 90’s (“We swear you can run Windows software on it.”) I was compeltely anti-Apple. I got an iPhone as part of my job here. I have to say that the iPhone really is a fantastic mobile device. It isn’t just hype


    I’m not sure that iPhone and Windows Mobile should be compared. They are very different animals with very different capabilities. For instance, I can’t run Pocket DOS on my iPhone, I can’t toss Excel and Word docs over, I can’t read my PDF files, I can’t run multiple apps at once, and I don’t have anywhere near the amazing flexibility that Windows Mobile offers. On the other hand, my out of the box experience and typical day to day experience on the iPhone is much better. iPhone has a smooth, easy to use OS that makes my most common activities exceptionally easy.

    Each has its pros and cons and I’m a firm believer that both operating systems have an important role to play in the evolving mobile device marketplace. As with all things, it’s all a matter of what is important to you in your day to day use of the device.

  5. Marc

    @J Wagner: We’ve never had AutoPass on mobile devices. It’s always been a desktop function. Unfortunately without Copy and Paste you can’t use our SmartCopy function on the iPhone. I have high hopes that Apple will correct this in the near future though.

  6. Don Gibbons

    The ZDNet article basically serves to reinforce the point made by an Apple VP (and widely reported) shortly after the v2 launch. When asked about incorporating a Copy Paste function, he noted that based on user requests, it wasn’t a high priority but it will likely be addressed down the road. I wouldn’t expect it in the near future, think far future.

  7. David Via

    Now that you’ve done eWallet for iPhone, how about Listpro? How about Listpro for Leopard while you’re at it? 😉

    I’ve used Listpro almost religiously for 10 years. It’s just about my favorite piece of software on earth. Next week I start switching from Windows to a Macbook and it sure would be nice to be able to run Listpro natively instead of having to use WINE…

  8. Bill Curnow

    63-byte WPA keys are the very reason Xerox invented copy and paste all those years ago.

  9. Matt

    There is an interesting comment in the original post about bloating the software by adding a browser so that you can avoid cut and paste and pass through IDs and passwords directly.

    From what I understand (not a lot) of the iPhone SDK is that you can make direct calls to Safari and render full web pages and browser functionality in your app. 1Pass is actually doing this with their iPhone password manager and from what I’ve seen it works great. Click on the URL in the app, it renders the web page in a new screen and passes over the ID and password.

    Will I switch to 1Pass? Heck no! I’m a dedicated eWallet user but you might want to take a look at how they are handling it. I could certainly be wrong and they may have bloated it by writing their own browser but I’ve been led to believe this is native iPhone SDK functionality.

    Long live eWallet! 🙂

  10. Tim Jones

    I’m still using my Blackberry (and still waiting on eWallet for the Blackberry) and I use copy/paste muliple times daily it seems. I am still flabergasted that Apple let copy/paste out of the spec since it was such a HUGE part of their early GUI and one of the features they touted over many of their competetors.

  11. LindsayannG

    I agree about the software bloat, and a LOT of web app developers are having to write their own browser or mail software because they want to be able to send an email directly from the app, or open a browser from the app.

    It is a SAD thing, what the SDK did to you developers. They REALLY limited you in what you can do. It would be GREAT to be able to tap into ALL functions (in a limited way) in order to get what you want out of it.

    Think about all of the things that could be done if you can connect to your calender, email, contacts.. the list goes on.

  12. Andrew

    As an owner of PPC, WM5/6, Blackberry and now iPhone, I feel like all have their places. As mentioned above, it is sometimes unfair to compare them as they are so different in many respects. Regarding copy/paste, I disagree with the notion that you won’t miss it until you have it. The iPhone and WM smartphone sorely lack in this area when it comes to some basic functions:

    1. you are emailed contact info and want to save it to a new user. Maybe the phone will recognize the phone number, but you have to retype all the other contact information.

    2. The iPhone is unable to dial a phone number from a calendar invite – no matter where it is (body, subject, etc). Yes this an iPhone shortcoming, but Copy/Paste would solve it.

    Some of us may not edit docs or XLS files on our devices, but moving around and copying core information like contacts, calendar, notes, etc. is fundamental and all OS need the standard BB feature of Copy/Paste.

  13. PJMDS

    no Copy/Paste
    no MMS
    no Video Recording
    no Multitasking
    no Removable battery
    no Pen
    no Camera to do video calls

    It’s amazing that people pay for such beta devices when they could get a device with all those features implemented and many more, iPhone is just to show of to your friends and hope that none of them ask about the features it doesn’t have 🙂

    It must be some advanced brainwashing method that makes people crazy about the iPhone.

  14. Kevin White

    I’m not really sure what my take is on the iPhone’s features (or lack of.) I bought a car that has only a speedometer, tachometer (which is useful, as I have a manual transmission) and fuel gauge. Everything else is indicated by several lights that come on if something’s wrong. Do you really need a temperature gauge? All you need to know is if your car is overheating, or not heating up at all, not that your water temperature is Over The Middle Line. (Or do you actually need to know that?) On the other hand, as a geek, I bought a ScanGauge right away so I can watch all kinds of fun numbers change as I drive around.

    Also, as a geek, I am required to make car analogies. 🙂

    PJMDS’s list is pretty good. Out of those things, I think that copy/paste is probably the big thing that I care about. I also amuse myself by trying to figure out how to implement it, and it almost always comes back to some kind of ‘different mode’ that would come up if you tap+hold on text. Right now, tap+hold on text starts up the magnifying glass. I suppose with copy and paste, you’d have to bring up the magnifying glass *and* have the loupe stay on the screen even if you let go of the screen, *and* offer some options to select text or not, and then to copy it or paste it.

    The iPhone doesn’t really have any menus the way a PalmOS, Windows Mobile, or Blackberry device has. You have specific configuration screens, but no generic menu capability. There’s no ‘root menu’ or popup context menus, there’s no always-on menu option on screen, there’s no button that brings up a program-specific menu.

    I put my five dollars on some kind of context menu that comes up when you tap and hold on the screen, not crazy multitouch ‘tap here and then use another finger to tap there and bring the two together’ ideas.

    The lack of video calling is interesting. The idea that I would have to stare at my phone while calling someone on it seems to be antithetical to using my phone… I can’t do anything else while making a video call, lest I look like I don’t care about the other caller.

  15. doogald

    Um, I have a Windows Mobile 6 Smartphone and it does NOT have copy/paste, much to my displeasure when trying to use eWallet to look up passwords for web sites.

    So, how do I get copy/paste on my WM phone?

    I think that Apple has already acknowledged that iPhone needs c/p and that they felt that there were other things that they needed to get done first, so I expect that a solution is coming soon. Sooner that it is coming to my WM SP anyway.

  16. Marc

    @Doogald: If you’re using eWallet 6.1 and you click Menu->Edit in edit mode you should have a full edit menu. Youc an also copy and paste cards to move them between categories.

  17. Ken

    For a device with applications that rely on a tiny keyboard, copy/paste is definitely a requirement. I think that apple will have copy and paste for the iphone with the next major firmware update.

  18. doogald


    But then how do I paste the password into PIE (or Opera Mini), or into the WiFi WPA setting?

    The good news about the iPhone is that Apple frequently updates the firmware. The same is not true for my Q9m – it has been updated once, and, so far, Verizon has not even announced whether they will add 6.1 to the device (and my guess is that they will not.) And people have suggested that the 2.1 iPhone firmware has text that suggests there will be cut/copy/paste.

  19. Ash


    C&P was one of those things I found out the iPhone did not do, and over the last 9 months or so of usage, one that don’t miss very much.

    However, I must say I am somewhat confused. If I am able to click on email containing a URL from within Email, and get the page launched within Safari, would eWallet not be able to do the same?

    Also, would it not be possible to create a ‘Keychain’ entry from within eWallet for the id/password. That way when the website is launched Safari would have that info. Maybe I am over simplyfying things.. and I am sure you have much more creative guys on the Dev team, but, just a thought.

    Having been a long loyal user of eWallet since my Palm Pilot days, I cannot wait to have my over 400 entries sync up and usuable on the iPhone.

    All around Great jobs guys!!

    One thing that comes to mind,

  20. LexLuther

    Well, I have to say that C&P are pretty fundemental in my mind. Even this morning I was working on a list on my iPod Touch notes app and I wanted to rearrange the bullet points. Alas, if I had C&P I would be able to just do it in a flash 9especially if it were drag and drop!). On my Blackberry I often use the copy and paste functions to move large blocks of text. So for me it is a must. I love my Blackberry 8310 (can’t wait to get eWallet on it) and my iTouch (can’t wait to sync!) but I miss much about my years in the Palm camp (ewallet being one thing I mess) and C&P is certainly one.

    Thanks Ilium, ewallet was the number one reason for me NOT to dump Palm for a Touch. Once I saw you had brought it over I grabbed a Touch right away and want to get an iPhone soon too! Keep up the development.

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