Pastebud: Copy and paste comes to the iPhone (sort of)

A major complaint from many iPhone users (myself included) is the lack of text selection and cut/copy/paste between apps. It still strikes me as amazing that Apple left these pretty fundamental features out of an otherwise advanced phone. What’s more, Apple has thwarted pretty much any attempt by third parties to add copy and paste functionality between apps.

Pastebud is a clever new Web application that attempts to address this issue. Rather than being an iPhone app as such, it gives you limited “copy and paste” functionality on your iPhone by sending the text to copy to the Pastebud web server, at which point you can paste it back into an app on your iPhone.


Installing Pastebud is straightforward, but you need to do it from the Mac or PC that syncs with your iPhone and you have to use Safari or IE7.

The process involves dragging a COPY bookmarklet and a PASTE bookmarklet to your bookmarks bar, and adding your unique Pastebud email address to your address book. Then you sync the iPhone to add the bookmarklets to the Mobile Safari bookmarks bar, and the Pastebud contact with your iPhone contacts.

Copying from a web page

To copy stuff from a web page, you tap the Bookmark icon at the bottom of the screen:

… then tap the COPY bookmarklet in the Bookmarks Bar folder:

This takes you to a page on Pastebud’s site that includes all the text from the web page. Tap the start of the text you want to copy, drag until the text is highlighted, and tap the Copy button top-right to store it in your Pastebud clipboard:

Alternatively, tap the Compose button top-left to instantly paste the text straight into a new email:

Copying from an email message

Copying text from an email is somewhat more convoluted. First you forward the email to your unique Pastebud address (easy to find if you’ve saved the address in your contacts using a name such as PASTE). You then get an automated reply email from Pastebud with a link. Tap the link to access the same text selection screen as for copying from a web page. You can then select text and copy it to the clipboard, or paste into a new email.

Pasting into a web form

Once you’ve selected your text and copied it to the Pastebud clipboard, you can paste it into a web form field in Safari. To do this, bring up your bookmarks again, and tap the PASTE bookmarklet. All text fields in the form are highlighted in green; tap the desired field to paste the text into it:

So what’s Pastebud like to use?

Copying from a Web page into an email is surprisingly quick, and dragging to select text is actually quite easy to do, even with relatively pudgy fingers.

However, copying from an email is rather painful. First of all you have to wait for the forwarded email to be sent to Pastebud (which, on my iPhone, can take up to half a minute). Then you have to wait for the reply (another few seconds), then tap the link to bring up a new Safari window, then select the text to copy. Also, once you’re done, you’ll probably want to go back and close the Safari window, as well as delete the email message sent from Pastebud. Phew! All just to copy and paste some text.

There are some other limitations with Pastebud, many of which are to do with the nature of copying and pasting via email and the Web (and are hence somewhat unavoidable):

  • It only works with Mail and Safari. Because of the way Pastebud works, Mail and Safari are the only two apps that can use it. On the plus side, these are probably the two apps where you’re most likely to need copy and paste.
  • It only copies and pastes text. So you can’t copy Web images and paste them into an email, for example.
  • You can’t paste text into an email that you’re already composing. You can only paste into a new email.
  • Because you have to forward an email to copy it, you end up with quote arrows to the left of every line of copied text. (It would be good if Pastebud would strip these out, but it doesn’t appear to.)
  • There are potential reliability issues, as well as potential (and not-so-potential) security issues, surrounding copying and pasting over the internet.
  • The free version adds a nag footer to the bottom of a pasted email, and a nag alert box when you paste into a web form:

You can, however, pay $5 to remove these nags. Would you spend $5 to copy and paste on your iPhone? I guess if thousands do end up paying then it shows the pent-up user demand for this basic iPhone functionality!

(More Pastebud reviews over at Lifehacker and Gizmodo.)

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