Cut, copy and paste has finally come to iPhone OS and I could not be happier. The lack of copy-and-paste in iPhone OS was one of the biggest reasons why I jailbroke my iPhone. If you need copy-and-paste today, but do not have access to the beta builds of iPhone OS 3.0, there are a handful of jailbreak solutions out there.
Did it really have to take two years? Security issues arising from sharing data between apps aside, my money is on the guess that Apple had agonized and deliberated on the most elegant way of implementing cut, copy and paste. Which should come as no surprise. Apple is known to either do it the best way there is, or to not do at all (you can thank Steve Jobs for inculcating that belief at Apple).
Now that we have seen Apple’s implementation of cut, copy and paste, it is all the more interesting to see the many vastly different methods independent developers had come up with to get copy-and-paste working. How well do these solutions work? In testing all of them, I have narrowed down four methods they use to copy-and-paste text. Let’s weigh the pros and cons of each.
The Relay Method
CopierciN, one of the first solutions to come to market, is a standalone app billed as a basic text editor with some copy-and-paste functionality. Essentially what CopierciN does is relay text selections by importing and exporting them between certain apps. Once a text selection has been made, you choose from a limited list of destination apps to which CopierciN can launch and paste it.
Pastebud and Pastie take a completely different route. Rather than being apps in the OS, Pastebud and Pastie are web services that relay text selections between Mail and Safari. The upside of these two solutions is that you don’t need to jailbreak your phone to use them; all you need are a couple of bookmarklets in Safari. The downside is that it is not system-wide copy-and-paste, and the notion of sending chunks of text this way puts me off.
The Swipe-to-Select Method
In December 2008, Clippy was released. It was a breakthrough at that time, in that it took a different approach than all the other solutions out there. Instead of being a standalone app, CIippy is a system hack that hooks itself into iPhone OS as a background service.
Of all the jailbreak copy-and-paste solutions, Clippy bears the most resemblance to Apple’s implementation of cut, copy and paste in iPhone OS 3.0. Both are system-wide, and Clippy employs a swipe-to-select method similar to Apple’s.
In Clippy, you tap and hold your finger to mark the start of a selection. Then, with your finger still pressed to the touchscreen, you drag your finger to highlight a selection. Upon lifting your finger, Clippy’s HUD pops up for you to cut or copy the selection.
This is where Clippy’s similarity to 3.0’s cut, copy and paste ends. A highlighted selection in Clippy does not have handles you can grab to finesse where it starts and ends. Getting a selection right the first time requires much precision. You have to get it right the first time or you’ll have to do it all over again. Also, when you select a passage that extends beyond the page view, you have to hold your finger at the edge of the view to get the page to scroll, if it scrolls at all. Even when it does scroll, oftentimes the selection will break. Text editor apps such as TextGuru and MagicPad also employ this method with equally mixed results.
On the upside, Clippy does have a very nice feature that is missing in iPhone OS 3.0. Called “Stack,” it stores multiple snippets of selections. In iPhone OS 3.0, you can only copy text one selection at a time.
The Mark-In/Mark-Out Method
Finally, in 2009, hClipboard was unleashed upon the jailbreaking world. hClipboard is a system mod in the form of a keyboard extension, so copy-and-paste is available only when the virtual keyboard is invoked.
In hClipboard, you highlight a selection by marking its in and out points. You mark a start point, tap a button in hClipboard, flick the page to quickly scroll to an end point, and tap the button again. Compared to swiping and dragging, this is simply the fastest and most accurate way to select a passage of text.
If you aren’t looking to only select a specific passage, there is a Copy All button. Another convenient feature, obviously well-thought out by the developer, are the ‘Move to beginning’ and ‘Move to end’ buttons that jump the cursor to the start and end, respectively, of a document.
hClipboard stores up to 10 clippings at a time. I’ve tested this with 500-word clippings and it works fine, so there doesn’t seem to exist a limit to how many words per clipping you can store in hClipboard.
A companion feature is Templates. Unlike normal clippings in the Clipboard, where older clippings will be deleted upon the 10-clipping limit to make way for newer ones, clippings in Templates are permanently stored. I like to keep HTML tags that I often use in drafting blog entries and frequently-used addresses for quick entry into Calendar.
The Best of Both Worlds
In the four months I’ve been testing all of these solutions, hClipboard stands out as the fastest and the most effortless way to copy and paste text in iPhone OS, while Clippy extends more seamless copying and pasting into areas of the OS such as Safari and Mail1.
I’m glad that Apple’s implementation of cut, copy and paste is a combination of both swipe-to-select and mark-in/mark-out methods, one that offers the best of both worlds.
Now that Apple has finally caught up and has given us cut, copy and paste, all of these solutions may become largely irrelevant once 3.0 is released in the summer. But for now, Clippy and hClipboard are as good as it gets for copy-and-paste goodness in iPhone OS 2.x.