Copy and Paste for the iPhone? Sort of . . .

This feed item on Techmeme got me all excited earlier in the week.

Copy and Paste for iPhone

Digging more deeply, it turns out not to be copy and paste, but rather an open source solution called OpenClip that iPhone app developers can use to accomplish copy and paste.

Because Apple forbids third party apps from running in the background, but allows this behavior for its own (e.g. iPod, alarm), true copy and paste is a pipe dream until Apple makes it a reality. Apparently, Apple doesn’t think copy and paste is a high priority, since it fell off the 3G list.

Created by Zac White, OpenClip uses shared space that any application can read from/write to, so any app that adopts the OpenClip framework can accomplish copy/paste with other OpenClip-enabled apps. This clever workaround also sidesteps Apple’s ban on plugins that allow apps to work with each other on the iPhone.

Unfortunately, there are obvious problems here.

  1. No adoption, no copy/paste. Because OpenClip isn’t an app, like MagicPad, which does copy/paste but only inside MagicPad, it requires that adoption by developers.
  2. Apps from Apple won’t support OpenClip. I’ve missed copy/paste most in Mail and Safari, but neither would have it.
  3. Apple isn’t very forgiving of apps, even if they comply with the terms. Remember I Am Rich? It seems likely that Apple would pull apps that support OpenClip.

Still, I applaud the effort, and the demo is very cool. Check it out below, on TC and at

I guess we’re stuck without official copy/paste until Apple pushes it up the priority list. I don’t know about you, but I’ve felt this was a must have feature from the beginning.

What do you think? Find the comments.




  1. Not that Gruber is the end-all be-all on iPhone dev, but he makes some cogent points on where the copy-paste ui falls down at… . Specifically the part about separate clipboard stores for each app. If this is right then the cache mgmt issues are significant and the potential for Apple to break things later is also high. I'd love to see the iPhone open up a little more. I'm hopeful that an improved and in the wild Android will keep them on their toes and eventually get them to support the same kinds of third party efforts that enhance Mac OS X. Meanwhile we're all waiting for copy and paste still for more than one reason.

  2. Very good and detailed writeup of OpenClip, thanks.

    My faith in Android keeps waning the longer it takes to come to market, but yes, we can hope it would/will push Apple to open the iPhone more. The iPhone has a huge amount of smart thinking around it (outside Apple), and harnessing that seems like a way to make it truly awesome.

    Am I the only one whose bored by apps?

  3. Unfortunately it looks likes Apple is breaking OpenClip in the 2.1 release of the software. I agree with you Jake. This is one of those necessary apps that should have been in there from the beginning.

  4. Yeah, I saw that too. This is me acting surprised.

    I guess the best we can hope for is this whole thing bumped up the priority of copy/paste on Apple's to do list.

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