Ex-Apple engineer explains why the original iPhone could not copy and paste

The iPhone is a formidable device, the main computer many people interact with during the day. The same goes for Android handsets, of course. Smartphones can replace a desktop or laptop for many digital chores that would have needed a traditional computer. But the iPhone was not always like this. The original iPhone lacked copy and paste support. That’s a must-have feature on any computer, a feature that we’ve been taking for granted for years.

Apple only added support for copy and paste in 2009 on the third-gen iPhone, the iPhone 3GS. And we finally know why Apple had to wait as long, as a former engineer revealed more secrets about the iPhone’s copy and paste feature.

How copy and paste works on iPhone

It’s incredibly easy to copy and paste stuff on iPhone. Whether it’s text, images, a combination thereof, or other digital content, the operation is simple.

First, you’ll want to touch and hold on the screen until you can select the text and / or image you need to copy. The select tool is really what you want to bring up by touching and holding your finger on the screen.

Once you can select an item, you’ll be able to choose a Copy item from the menu that hovers around your selection.

Repeat the gesture in the app you want to paste the copied text / photo. That’s it! It’s that simple to copy and paste on iPhone. And the same goes for iPad.

On top of that, Apple’s Continuity features let you paste the digital content from the iPhone to a different Apple device, like an iPad or Mac.

That’s all part of the current iPhone experience. But copy and paste was not part of the first-gen iPhone OS 1, the operating system that powered the original iPhone.

Apple's iPhone 13 notch next to the iPhone 12 notch
Apple’s iPhone 13 notch next to the iPhone 12 notch. Image source: Christian de Looper for BGR

Why the original iPhone lacked copy and paste

Former Apple software engineer Ken Kocienda took to Twitter to explain why the original iPhone lacked support for copy and paste. Kocienda joined Apple in 2001 and worked on the Safari web browser before developing iOS features for the original iPhone.

The reason why Apple decided not to bring copy and paste to the original iPhone is quite simple. And it’s hilarious. Apple did not have time to implement the feature properly. Kocienda says he and his team were working on the iPhone’s virtual keyboard and the autocorrect feature. The copy and paste feature did not make the cut.

The team started working on the feature after the original iPhone launched in 2007. But it wouldn’t be until 2009 that Apple was ready to announce it.

The engineer revealed that he came up with the magnifying text loupe to ensure that users could accurately touch the screen where they wanted to insert content. Furthermore, Kocienda implemented a failsafe system that ensured the iPhone understood correctly where you wanted to insert the content. That’s a touch history log that would make up for errors.

Apple ended up bringing copy and past to the iPhone 3GS in the summer of 2009. And all iOS devices have had the feature ever since.