Copy-and-paste: now more than ever

The ability to copy and paste text on the iPhone has topped many a list of missing features, especially now that the 2.0 software has been released to the world at large. But the fact that copy-and-paste is missing from the iPhone is even more glaring now that the 2.0 software has been released.

With the first major version of the iPhone software, Apple did a good job of anticipating the most common scenarios in which you might want to copy and paste text—an email address or a hyperlink, for example. It provided hooks in those cases that let you tap on such text and have the phone take you to the space where you’d most likely want to use it. There were gaps in their appraoch, to be sure—physical addresses in emails, for example, or other arbitrary information that you might want to search for in Google.

But with the addition of the App Store and third-party applications, the problem of how to move data around the phone has increased exponentially. When Apple had complete control of all the programs on the phone, it was a simple matter for it to define the places where you could transfer information from one application to another. That’s not the case anymore, though: now there are potentially dozens of programs on a phone that might want to exchange information with one another.

Developers have chosen to handle this in different ways: some have built extra functionality into their programs (NetNewsWire and Twitterrific, for example, incorporate their own web browsers for letting you follow a link without leaving the program), others have added hooks to other third-party programs (Flickr browser Exposure, for example, which lets you post to Twitter—if you have Twitterrific installed).

All these new potential uses cry out for some sort of iPhone-wide framework for moving arbitrary information from one place to another. Nowhere was this driven home to me more than this morning when I tried out the new WordPress iPhone app. While it was surprisingly easy to write a blog post from my iPhone, it quickly became apparent that I wouldn’t be inserting a lot of links on the fly. My patchy short term memory means there’s no way I can possibly re-type anything but the most basic URL without resorting to writing it down on a piece of a paper—and the typing of URLs themselves is a pain in the neck that rivals sentence diagramming.

Sure, maybe NetNewsWire could add a hook that would let you send a link to WordPress or the TypePad application, but if there are suddenly ten blogging applications and ten RSS readers, that’s probably going to be a less attractive option for their developers to support.

This is where Apple needs to step up and make a systemwide framework, in the same way that they put together one for push notifications. Given Apple VP Greg Joswiak’s comments about copy-and-paste being low on the priority list, we know that they’re at least considering what it will take and, as John Gruber has speculated, it’s probably a question of how the UI will work—and not the actual code—that’s holding it back.

But given the amount and volume of demand among iPhone users, I’ll be a Super Monkey Ball’s uncle if they’re not already working on it somewhere in the depths of 1 Infinite Loop.

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