Apple solved touchscreen copy-and-paste 15 years ago

Video by option8 shows "how Apple could (or should) implement copy and paste on the iPhone: a demonstration of how they got it right 15 years ago on the Newton MessagePad."



  1. Ummm yeah. Awesome. And tons of people have brought this up since last June.

    Except on iPhone, tap-and-drag is reserved for moving the text cursor around. So yeah, you could have this implementation of clipboard controls, but without the ability to, you know… place the cursor where you want to begin with.

  2. P.S. On the Newton, this wasn’t a problem as you could fairly easily place the cursor where you wanted – you had a teeny, pointy stylus. It’s a little less functional when your pointing device is a big fat finger. That’s why iPhone shows the magnification loupe around the text insertion point.

  3. Like @Neven said, you’re going to interfere with the loupe by doing this. It will probably be similar, mind you, but the display constraints are very different between the iPhone and the Newton. It would be a mistake to go the same route on both.

  4. Here’s a short documentary about John ‘Kung Fu’ Wang, who holds the patent on the right-click menu, and the ancient and bizarre Kung Fu training method he has perfected over the last 30+ years.

  5. I dumped my iPhone and got an LG DARE. It is a iPhone killer for me. It has a note pad that has character recogniton and a sketch pad, plus a VIDEO CAM that iPhone should have added from the getgo. It’s Bluetooth even does what Bluetooth is suppose to do, unlike the celebrated iPhone…

  6. Just a FYI; the cursor on the Newton was called the “caret” which according to Apple’s dictionary is “A mark (^) placed below the line to indicate a proposed insertion in a printed or written text.

  7. You’ll have to select the start and the end of the copy you want to make in some way on the IPhone/IPod touch… It couldn’t work with that, but it’s a great start. There should be a copy mode that you activate in some way and then, you select the start and the end.

  8. This was developed while the blessed Steve Jobs was not at Apple. Since all good things were invented by Jobs, this is clearly the work of the Devil and must never be spoken of again!

  9. Since all good things were invented by Jobs

    A popular but wrong notion. Steve Jobs is a manager and businessman, I don’t think he’s invented a thing in his life. Many of Apple’s best ideas were invented by Woz.

  10. Touch screens are a terrible idea. When you use your finger as a cursor, you’re covering up the very thing you’re trying to interact with.

    Sure it would be fine for a large screen (i.e. Microsoft Surface) but on something that fits in your pocket? Give me a break.

  11. OMG the Newton!!! My brother had one of these back in the day … man this brings back memories of me stealing it when he wasn’t looking so I could play with it, since I wasn’t allowed to touch it …

    And no, I don’t have anything more useful to contribute, sorry!

  12. I hope more people realize that online video is a great way to document technological anthropological findings of prior art to thwart evil patent trolls.

  13. Touch screens are a terrible idea.

    ..except that milions of people actually like the iPhone sized touch screen.

  14. Assuming they patented that method prior to implementing it, the patent is likely to be expired. As much of Apple’s interface as possible should, from the company’s point of view, be proprietary, since they’ve got far and away the most popular touchscreen phone/etc. on the market. Good design in other product lines is not a high priority.

  15. Yes, copy/paste between applications requires Apple to solve two problems:

    1. Inter-application communication
    2. User interface.

    The Daring Fireball essay doesn’t say that sandboxing prevents copy/paste between applications. It says that sandboxing prevents the way OpenClip wants to do it from working. It suggests that developers can’t do it themselves, Apple will have to get involved.

    The video addresses the second problem. I suspect that user interface is a bigger reason why the iPhone OS doesn’t yet have copy/paste. It’s not like Apple doesn’t know how to do the behind the scenes nuts-n-bolts of copy/paste.

    Using the Newton interface breaks because the Newton gesture to select is the iPhone OS gesture to move the cursor. Usually, that shuts down the conversation quite nicely.

    However, what’s wrong with the rest of the interface? I like the idea of copying or cutting by dragging the selection off to the edge of the screen. That seems much easier (and less modal) than having to pop up a menu or only being able to copy or paste when the keyboard is on screen.

    Yes, Apple will need a different select gesture. However, the Newton gestures to do the actual cutting, copying, or pasting will still work. I hope Apple will consider those.

    I’m not sure the way the Newton represent clips of text will work on iPhone’s physically smaller screen. The clip may be too small to tap and drag. However, having something physical on screen to paste solves the “how do you initiate a paste” problem that all the other copy/paste proposals have run into.

  16. That reminds me. While touch screens have both advantages and flaws, a touch screen that you are expected to press against your ear, then later touch with your fingers, is just gross. Never, ever borrow somebody else’s iphone. If you do have to borrow one, wear gloves.

  17. I miss you, Newton.

    The iPhone — and what people are clamoring to make it do — is like the ultimate “we told you so” to those of us who liked using the Newton and were heartbroken when Jobs came back and killed it. Sure, he was trying to get a capsising boat to shore, but the bajillions of iPhone sales seem to contradict his insistence that “nobody wants a scribble-pad”.

  18. @Asuffield:

    Since the iPhone relies on capacitance rather than pressure, covering one’s fingers when using it would be rather unproductive.

  19. I call fake, nobody could write “Hello” on it twice and have the thing recognize all the letters correctly both times.

  20. > That reminds me. While touch screens have both advantages and flaws, a touch screen
    > that you are expected to press against your ear, then later touch with your fingers,
    > is just gross. Never, ever borrow somebody else’s iphone. If you do have to borrow
    > one, wear gloves.

    Except, of course, that you can’t dial an iPhone while wearing gloves – or even with a stylus. And that sound you hear in the background is even more Palm users laughing their asses off, while wearing gloves and dialing phone numbers on the new Centros that they got after sending back their iPhones.

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