How to use the Universal Clipboard on iOS

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Use Apple's Universal Clipboard to copy anything from one iOS device to another, or to a Mac.
Universal Clipboard lets you copy something on one Apple device, then paste it on another.
Photo: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac

Since last fall, your Mac and your iOS devices have shared a Universal Clipboard. That is, you can copy on one device and paste on another. It’s seamless, and incredibly useful. For instance, you could copy a shipment tracking number in Mail on your Mac, then paste it into the tracking app on your iPhone. Or you could take a screenshot on your iPhone, then paste it into a blog post you’re writing on your iPad.

Universal Clipboard is so easy to use, you might have used it already without even realizing. Here’s how it works.

How Universal Clipboard works

The Universal Clipboard works a lot like AirDrop, another awesome Apple feature.

Universal Clipboard uses Bluetooth to detect your nearby Apple devices, then uses Wi-Fi to transfer whatever you have copied to your clipboard. Like AirDrop, the devices don’t need to be on a Wi-Fi network. They can transfer your clipboard contents directly. That means you can even use the Universal Clipboard in the middle of a forest, should you desire. You do need to be signed into iCloud, however, so your devices can be identified as belonging to you.

Can your device handle this handy feature?

According to Apple’s own page on the feature, you’ll need to make sure you meet all the following requirements to use the Universal Clipboard:

  • Running iOS 10 or macOS Sierra (or later).
  • Both devices signed into iCloud (and using the same Apple ID).
  • Bluetooth turned on.
  • Wi-Fi turned on.
  • Handoff turned on.

Your device also should meet Apple’s requirements for Continuity, which is Cupertino’s catch-all term for Universal Clipboard, Handoff, AirDrop and similar services. On iOS, this is easy — if it can run iOS 10, your iPhone or iPad should work. On the Mac, it comes down to the kind of Bluetooth chip inside. (Most Macs since 2012 are good to go.)

Copy iOS clipboard to Mac

The iPad is sending a copied picture to the Universal Clipboard.
The iPad is sending a copied picture to the Universal Clipboard.
Photo: Cult of Mac

Apple does some clever, complicated business in the background to make Universal Clipboard behave like you’d expect. To use it, you just copy to the clipboard on one device (Command-C on the Mac, or using the Copy option in the Sharing extension on iOS), then paste on the other. When you copy, the contents of your clipboard get automatically copied to all your nearby devices’ clipboards, ready to paste.

Pasting from Universal Clipboard.
Pasting from Universal Clipboard.
Photo: Cult of Mac

After a while, the copied clip disappears from the other devices’ clipboards. (They revert to whatever they had on their clipboards before.) This is good for security because sensitive information doesn’t hang around. It also won’t confuse you (by suddenly showing your iPhone’s clipboard on your Mac the following day, for example).

What is Universal Clipboard useful for?

This shared clipboard makes some annoying tasks much easier. For instance, I use it when writing posts for Cult of Mac. It lets me take a screenshot on my iPhone and paste it into the post I’m writing on the iPad. Without Universal Clipboard, I’d have to wait for the photo to upload to my iCloud Photo Library, then insert from there. Or — when away from a Wi-Fi internet connection — I’d have to manually transfer the image using AirDrop.

Other uses for Universal Clipboard:

  • Passwords.
  • Screenshots.
  • Video clips.
  • Grabbing a URL in Safari on your iPhone to use on the bigger screen of your Mac.
  • Automatically saving your clipboard with an app like Copied.

This last one is worth a special mention.

Keeping a clipboard history with Copied app

Copied is a fantastic clipboard manager app for iOS and macOS that also will perform some clipboard syncing duties. Working in concert with the Universal Clipboard, it turns into a clipboard history tool. You may be familiar with these from the Mac: An app like the amazing LaunchBar can keep a list of everything you copy, ready to be quickly accessed for pasting. This lets you copy, copy, copy, then paste, paste, paste, instead of switching back and forth between apps to copy then paste, copy then paste.

Copied app turns your iPhone into a clipboard history console.
The Copied app turns your iPhone into a clipboard history console.
Photo: Cult of Mac

With Universal Clipboard, you can do the same on iOS. If you’re working on your iPad, say, just launch Copied on your iPhone. Then, every time you copy something on the iPad, it will be saved by Copied on the iPhone and added to its running list of snippets. If you want to copy something back to the iPad, just swipe it to the right on the iPhone, and it is added back to the iPad’s clipboard using the Universal Clipboard. This way, you can copy lots of snippets of text from a web page, or grab a few images, or anything else, and then use them in any order, at any time. It’s pretty powerful stuff.

The Copied app is available for Mac and iOS.

In the end, this is just the same old clipboard you’re used to. But with a few extra tweaks, it becomes super-useful. In the bad old days, we’d have emailed ourselves a link from our iPhone just to be able to use it on the Mac. Now, you can simply treat the iPhone and the Mac like a single device. It’s pretty rad.