Text Selection in Android and iOS
In the browser, you long press on text to bring up your anchors, then drag and tap the center of your selection — boom, copied text. In text editing fields, however, in order to select a word you must long press on the word, wait for a contextual menu to pop up, and then select “select word” — a completely counterintuitive process. In the message app you can long press to select only the entire message.
…this segment of the quote, as cherry-picked by me from John’s larger cherry-picking, applies just as much to iOS as Android.
On iOS, text selection is largely up to the app developer. There’s a lot of text you simply can’t select in apps; try selecting a song name in the iPod app, for example… no dice. Sometimes long-holding an element of the UI lets you copy the entire text of the held element, such as in Messages and Calculator, with no fine-selection mechanism. In Safari and other “web views” you long-hold and it selects the nearest word (or contents of the nearest DOM node, it depends on your zoom level) and then you can fine-tune your selection by dragging handles before hitting the Copy button. In text fields, long-hold doesn’t give you any selection, but gives you a menu to select the nearest word, or select all text, then you can copy. Still on text fields, if you double-tap-and-drag in one motion you get a selection over the dragged area, and you can then hit Copy.
The problem doesn’t lie in how many different ways there are to copy things — whether from an editable field, from a read-only block of text, etc — but in how smartly it’s implemented. I don’t hear Topolsky or Gruber complaining about the multiple use cases that we encounter when selecting/copying/pasting. I hear them saying that the implementations of those use cases in Android aren’t very user-friendly. iOS select/copy/paste has a number of different implementations across the OS, but almost all of them are smartly implemented and reasonably consistent.
As an example, in the URL field in Mobile Safari, there is a handy shortcut: if you double-tap in the middle of a URL, the selection automatically anchors itself at the very end, and selects everything backward to where your finger is. Is this inconsistent with the rest of the system? Yes. But it’s also a very well-informed design decision, and is very likely to be a welcome implementation almost every time you encounter it.