These tips make text-selection on iPhone and iPad far less frustrating

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Text-selection on the iPad can feel pretty clunky.
Text-selection on the iPad can feel pretty clunky.
Photo: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac

iOS 13 (and iPadOS) fixed the frustrating text-selection tools on the iPhone and iPad, but only if you know how to use them. Selecting a single word or sentence is still way easier on a Mac, because you have a mouse and keyboard permanently attached. On the iPad, though, you can still find the text selection slipping and jumping like an oiled fish.

Use these iPhone and iPad text-selection tips to highlight words and paragraphs the easy way in iOS.

iOS text limitations

iOS text selection: Seriously, Apple?
Seriously, Apple?
Photo: Cult of Mac

There are a few text-selection oddities in iOS 13. The most annoying is that, when you tap in the middle of a word, the text-selection cursor appears at either the end or the beginning of the word. On the Mac, if you click the cursor between the letters M and A of “Mac,” that’s where it goes. On iOS, you must tap the word first, then grab the cursor to place it where you actually want it.

This happens even when you hook up a mouse to your iPad. And worse, the initial cursor placement can end up either at the beginning or the end of the word you tap, depending where on the word you tap. This means you must assess the position before acting. All this, for a simple text insertion!

However, there are some excellent shortcuts that will make selecting text a lot easier on iPhone or iPad. Note, these shortcuts and gestures work in actual text fields, where you can edit text yourself. They don’t work on non-editable text — in an email or on a web page, for example.

Quick-Select

When you are in a text field, i.e., when you are typing text yourself, in something like Notes or Pages, you can use the following tap gestures to select whole blocks of text:

  • Double-tap a word to select the whole word/
  • Triple-tap a word to select the sentence containing that word. This includes the trailing period.
  • Quadruple-tap does the same as a double, only it selects the entire paragraph.

Smart-select taps

One of the most annoying text-selection tasks in iOS is trying to copy a URL, a phone number or an email address. If those strings are on a webpage, good luck. You can continue to struggle with them. Have fun as you try to copy them, and instead they all open a new email message, or launch Safari, or cause your iPhone to call the person whose number you’re trying to copy.

However, if this text is all included in an editable text field, you can just double-tap on any email address, phone number or URL. iOS is smart enough to recognize these strings, and to select them automatically. You can then safely copy them, or share them. It even works with phone numbers including spaces, brackets and + characters.

Get Drafts

From this...
From this…
Photo: Cult of Mac

Given that text is much easier to work with in a text editor, it makes sense to move text into an editor as soon as you realize you need to do more than just read it.

Drafts is a fantastic iOS (and Mac) app designed for just that. The idea is that you either start typing in Drafts, or you send text to it from elsewhere. Then, you can work on that text, and send it out to another app.

... to this.
… to this.
Photo: Cult of Mac

In our case, Drafts is ideal as a way to quickly capture text from an email or web page, and open it in a text editor. This means you can highlight some non-editable text, send it to Drafts, and then work on it in peace. Better still, Drafts has a share-sheet extension.

Imagine you’re looking at a web page covered in email addresses, phone numbers and so on. You need to copy those to use somewhere else. Just highlight everything on that page, tap the share arrow, and pick Drafts in the list of apps. Your selection will open in a Drafts window, right there in the current app! If you want, you can capture it to Drafts for later, but you can actually use all of the above tricks and shortcuts in this floating Drafts panel.

Hopefully you’ll now find text-wrangling on iOS 13 a little less annoying. You still wouldn’t want to edit an entire book on an iPad, but at least you won’t want to throw your expensive device across the room next time you just want to copy an email address.