15 years later, we finally know why the first iPhone was unable to copy and paste


Some may remember: the very first iPhone, despite its many qualities, was unable to copy and paste text. 15 years after the presentation of the device, we finally know why.

The very first iPhone didn’t have a copy and paste option and that was intentional © South China Morning Post / Getty Images

In 2007, the first iphone had the effect of a small bomb on the telephone market. Apple’s very first smartphone, with its fully touch screen, multi-touch support and extremely simple interface, would gently revolutionize the sector. Despite these advances, it lacked a seemingly simple feature: the ability to copy and paste text. 15 years after the release of the phone, we finally know why this tool was missing.

Copy-paste, more complicated than expected

Ken Kocienda, a former Apple engineer who worked on the launch of the first iPhone (and the Safari browser), spilled the beans on Twitter. The copy-paste was not present on the first iPhone, because… nobody had time to take care of that, quite simply. “I had too much work to do on the keyboard, autocorrect, and text input system. The design team didn’t have time either. We therefore waived this feature for version 1.0“, explained the engineer in a tweet.

The tool will take two more years to finally arrive on the iPhone operating system, which was still called iPhone OS. According to Ken Kocienda, the magnifying glass, which makes it easier to select text, was an essential advance for the implementation of copy and paste. To be sure of reproducing the desired text, it was necessary to be able to make a precise finger selection, hence the invention of the selection magnifying glass. But this feature also gave designers a hard time, according to the former engineer.

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Illustration copy-paste iPhone

The ad that touted copy-paste on the iPhone 3GS

Selecting text, even with the magnifying glass, presented its share of problems. Indeed, when the user raised his finger, the cursor tended to deviate by one or two characters due to the touch of the screen. To remedy the problem, the teams therefore created a “history” of seizures which made it possible to switch the position of the cursor to that which preceded the removal of the finger by a few milliseconds. It was only once all these tools were integrated into the OS that it was possible to make copy-paste appear on the iPhone.

An iPhone full of bugs

The absence of this yet basic functionality had fueled the mockery of many technophiles. Other smartphones from the same era, like the too quickly forgotten Nokia N95, did have a copy-paste tool. It should nevertheless be remembered that the release of the first iPhone was all about a race against time. The device presented by Steve Jobs in 2007 was a bug-ridden prototype, as revealed by New York Times.

Unable to play an entire piece of music, prone to bugging when surfing the web and then sending an email: the iPhone shown on stage could only perform the tasks requested in a certain order, otherwise it was the live crash in front of an amphitheater full of journalists… To put it another way, the software development of the phone was chaotic to say the least, and copying and pasting was therefore not a priority.

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15 years later, we finally know why the first iPhone was unable to copy and paste

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