Why has the iPhone waited so long to take advantage of copy and paste

A member of the iPhone first team reveals why it took the iPhone so long to finally get one of its most essential features: copy and paste.

Copy and Paste on iPhone 3GS // Source: Apple

When Apple introduced the first iPhone in 2007, the world of smartphones changed forever. However, this impetus from the astonishing modernity of the time was devoid of some basic functions.

Several years later, Ken Kosenda, a former Apple engineer, explained why the original Apple smartphone did not have the option to copy and paste text. While we wait for the iPhone 14 this year, things were very different back then.

The project was running at full speed

Ken Kosenda, who joined Apple in 2001, was one of the key engineers behind the first iPhone. It simply says that the company did not have time to think about integrating such a core functionality.

Beyond the aforementioned reason, his team was already busy creating a virtual keyboard with an autocorrect system that took several tries and earned Apple engineers a few sleepless nights to get it right.

The Kocienda team had to implement a virtual touch area larger than the buttons themselves to make this keyboard possible. Therefore, the iPhone knows which keys you want to type even if the input does not precisely touch the button on the screen.

Problems to solve and tools necessary for upstream development

After the phone was launched, his team finally came up with it, and then it took a while for the feature to reach the end user.

The former Apple engineer also explains that before getting the copy-paste option, it was first necessary to devise other necessary tools such as a magnifying glass for magnified text allowing users to see exactly where the cursor is in the text.

Our finger never touches the intended area due to user perception and the system had to take this bias into account.

The curvature of your fingers makes you think you’re touching the top of the screen from you. Therefore, the keys are distorted to explain it. That’s why – to this day – it’s hard to target taps when you’re holding your phone upside down. pic.twitter.com/xl8YaxvKKu

—Ken Kocienda (@kocienda) June 19, 2022

a ” Touch History (On-screen finger movement log) had to be implemented as well to compensate for system latency which ended up detecting the user’s finger with a lag making the input inaccurate.

Thus, this history made it possible to automatically detect the position of the user’s finger a few milliseconds after the last entry so that the cursor remains in the right place.

Another issue the Apple team had to address was the stylized fonts used in apps based on Safari’s WebKit rendering engine. When an app uses a custom font, it displays a small web page for text.

When the text was not being edited, the phone displayed a static image of the content, likely to save CPU, RAM, and battery. The copy-and-paste option finally saw the light of day with iPhone OS 3.0 (now renamed iOS) arriving on the iPhone 3GS. The feature even got its own TV spot.

Youtube link

According to Kocienda, copying and pasting wasn’t the first iPhone’s only flaw. This also lacks multitasking mode due to lack of RAM and virtual memory.

Engineers then had to create a system called “jetsam” that would force the iPhone to use only one app at a time and stop all other background tasks to prevent performance issues.

So the Apple teams had to put some features aside for a while to focus on the basics and deliver this iPhone on time.


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