Copy and Paste

There are two possibilities regarding the iPhone’s continued lack of a system-wide copy-and-paste clipboard. Either Apple’s iPhone UI team doesn’t plan to add it, or, they haven’t gotten to it yet.

I saw a couple of links today pointing, incredulously, to this post from Sascha Segan at AppScout:

I got a few minutes of quality time today to ask Apple product head Greg Joswiak some of the most burning questions about missing iPhone applications and features.

Why isn’t there cut and paste? Apple has a priority list of features, and they got as far as they could down that list with this model, Joswiak said. In other words, they don’t have anything against cut and paste. They just judged other things to be more important.

No direct quotes from Joswiak, but based on Segan’s paraphrasing, it sounds like the latter of the two explanations — that they haven’t gotten to it yet. I’m not sure why so many people find this explanation so hard to believe.

Additional features take additional time to develop. Many commenters at Engadget, for example, seem to think adding copy and paste to the iPhone is simply a matter of “storing a text string into memory” or writing two lines of code.

Writing the code to implement a system-wide clipboard isn’t the hard part — as I wrote in August, the hard part is coming up with the right UI design for it. Whatever the UI for copy-and-paste for the iPhone OS eventually is, it’s very likely to remain as the UI for copy-and-paste on the iPhone for decades to come. (The basic UI for copy-and-paste on the original Mac remains in use today by everyone using Mac OS X and Windows — same concepts, same menu commands, even the same keyboard shortcuts.)

But even if Apple has already decided upon a UI design for iPhone clipboard features, it would take time to write the code. There are some very interesting new features in the 2.0 release of the iPhone OS, but what’s most striking is how little has changed, at least visually, since the 1.0 release last June.

Part of it is that Apple’s iPhone UI is exceedingly minimal — most apps seem to be designed using “figure out the least we can possibly do, then implement those basic features with as much attention to detail as we can” as the guiding principle. Do way less, but way better. So, most of the UI that appeared in iPhone OS 1.0 remains unchanged. Very little has changed at all in Safari, iPod, or Phone — three of the four primary apps. And even Mail’s biggest change is rather minor (multiple selection for deleting and filing messages).

But a big part is that the iPhone software engineering teams had an enormous amount of work on their plates implementing the features that did appear in the 2.0 OS — most obviously with everything associated with opening the iPhone to third-party software — the App Store, the Cocoa Touch APIs, the sandboxing of individual applications, integration with Xcode development tools, etc. There’s also a thing called MobileMe. And the iPhone performance team had to integrate 3G networking, and wound up with the highest-performing battery life of any 3G phone PC World tested.

And if you’re actually using iPhone OS 2.0, you’ve probably seen a few spots where a lot of this new stuff isn’t working perfectly. Like, say, with third-party apps that crash on start and force the entire OS to restart.

I want copy-and-paste as much as the next guy. Probably more, really. But given the evidence at hand — that the new iPhone OS 2.0 as it actually is has significant new features, which were already a little late, and which still have at least a few significant bugs — it boggles the mind that anyone could take Joswiak’s explanation regarding the lack of copy-and-paste as anything other than the obvious truth.

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