How to use the new copy, paste and undo gestures in iPadOS 13

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iPadOS productivity gestures
This is how text editing used to feel on iOS.
Photo: Jason Leung/Unsplash

It wasn’t until I installed iPadOS on my regular iPad that I realized how great iOS 13 is. It’s one thing to run it on an old, battered test unit, but a whole other thing to use it day to day. And, surprisingly, it’s the small features that make the biggest difference. The per-page view setting in Safari, for example. Or the new multi-app Slide Over panel. And, more than anything else, the new text-editing gestures, which are finally good enough to replace a mouse and a Mac.

Let’s take a look at how to use iPadOS 13’s new copy, paste, undo and redo gestures, plus text selection in general.

New iOS 13 gestures

For the entire life of the iPad, editing text has been a pain. Even just copying a word or two from Safari was annoying enough to make older users fondly remember Microsoft’s Clippy. Now, selecting and wrangling text is almost as good as on the Mac, where you get to use a nice, accurate mouse pointer.

Text selection in iOS 13

Previously, selecting text meant first trying to make iOS actually highlight a word, and then grabbing at the tiny handles to try and select the words you wanted. In practice, it would oscillate between selecting the entire page, and maybe selecting only one word. Now, long-pressing on a word in, say, Safari will select that word.

 

That’s it. It works reliably every time, and the little black bubble pops up to let you manipulate that text. If you want to expand (or shrink) the selection, grab the handles and drag them. This, too, just works. You finally can select just that parcel tracking number, and not the entire line of text it sits in. Text selection in iOS 13 is as accurate as using a mouse. Finally.

Copy and paste gestures

Soon after upgrading, iOS 13 will tell you about these new features with a pop-up panel.
Soon after upgrading, iOS 13 will tell you about these new features with a pop-up panel.
Photo: Cult of Mac

The new text engine doesn’t stop there. iOS 13 also brings new gestures for copying and pasting text. You can still do it the old way, by tapping Copy and Paste in the pop-over panel. But the new way is much easier. Just perform a three-finger pinch to copy the selection. It’s like grabbing the text off the page.

You can do the pinch anywhere on the page, not just over the text itself. And when you do, a small notification will appear, saying, “Copy.”

To paste, reverse the gesture. Make sure your text cursor is in a text field, and pinch out with three fingers. Your text will be pasted.

The first time you try this, it seems a little awkward. But right after that, it becomes second nature. It’s like a keyboard shortcut, built into your fingers.

Undo and redo

iOS 13 also brings new system-wide undo/redo gestures. Just swipe with three fingers: left to undo, right to redo. That’s it. You no longer need to remove your 13-inch iPad from its stand and shake it just to undo a deletion. You can swipe instead. (Shaking still works, by the way. And if you have a hardware keyboard attached, you can still use ⌘Z and ⇧⌘Z for undo and redo.)

The bad thing about new iOS 13 gestures

Some say that these gestures aren’t discoverable. I say, who cares? Keyboard shortcuts on the Mac aren’t particularly discoverable either. And shake to undo is even worse. Apple has played this nicely. If you keep doing things the old way, then nothing changes (apart from the much-better text selection). However, power users benefit from new and better options.

What is a problem, though, is the three-finger gesture. In music apps, when you try to play a chord (on a piano keyboard, for example), it can trigger one of these gestures instead.

And even in non-music apps, these gestures can get confused. A copy gesture is just one stray finger away from closing your app and returning to the home screen, for example. At least this can be fixed with a bit of practice. The music app problem is harder to fix. Even turning off gestures in the Settings app doesn’t disable these new three-finger swipes and pinches.

Apart from this, the new iOS 13 gestures prove genuinely amazing. You’ll no longer switch to your Mac in frustration anytime you need to copy and paste more than a single word.