Last night I read Federico Viticci’s post about Jumpy Octopus, a Flappy Bird clone made in Python. I had the article open on my computer, so rather than navigate to the source code on my iPad, copy more than three hundred lines, and then paste them into Pythonista, I opened Command-C on both devices and sent my Mac’s clipboard contents to my iPad. Less than a minute later I had tried, grown frustrated with, and ultimately abandoned the game. This article is not about the object of my distaste though, but about the mechanics that got it there in the first place.
Shortly after I realized the usefulness of a desktop clipboard manager, I decided I wanted a similar utility on my iOS devices. Not just the ability to save and access my clipboard history though, but to sync it across multiple devices as well: ideally, as soon as I copied a sentence, URL, or code snippet, it would become available on every other device I own. In addition to proving extremely useful while researching for and preparing to write new articles — as I could quickly send an excerpt and its URL from iPad to computer, for example — this would also remove Dropbox as a middleman for all but a few cases.
On the rare occasion that I write anything on my iPad these days, I use it to create short linked list posts in Drafts. Satisfied with the result, I use a built-in workflow to send a timestamped text files to the “Drafts” directory in Dropbox, which I then open on my computer, rename, and publish; after the post goes live, I delete the original. If instead of that convoluted process I could hit “Send to Clipboard” and have the post appear instantaneously in my Mac’s clipboard history, it would obviate the unnecessary files created in my current workflow and thus make it much easier — and perhaps more attractive — to write and publish using my iPad. Even at the onset of my quest I realized the app I desired was but a pipe dream though, but I pressed on nevertheless. I have been surprised by the ingenuity of iOS developers in the past, after all; maybe this time would prove no different.
I had heard tell of an app by the venerable Tapbots, famed creators of the best iOS and OS X Twitter client Tweetbot, for clipboard management similar to what I sought, so I started there with Pastebot. In addition to being saddled with a dated iOS 6 interface though, something I could have gotten past had it met my second, more important criterion, Pastebot also does not work in the background. That is, in order to send and receive information to and from other devices, I had to open Pastebot and its companion desktop client. At that point, I may as well email myself every URL or continue relying on Dropbox to sync entire files just for a line or two of text. I kept looking.
Shortly after dismissing Pastebot, Command-C launched to great fanfare. Making similar promises as Pastebot had with a revamped interface created with iOS 7 in mind, I bit the bullet and bought the app only to walk away in disappointment as I discovered that other than that shiny new design, Command-C did nothing to improve upon the functionality Pastebot had possessed since iOS 4: I still had to open Command-C on any device I wanted to send the contents of my clipboard from. Disappointment yet again.
Today I still have Command-C on all my devices, but I long for the day I will no longer need to open a dedicated app just to transfer a URL from one device to another. Not that this will ever happen, though: such a utility would necessitate Apple letting third-party apps run constantly in the background, and the likes of Facebook would undoubtedly abuse this newfound ability for stupid things like refreshing its users’s timeline, because that’s really important. This inevitable development would then lend itself to poor battery life, and Apple will never allow that; they will never sacrifice battery life so that I can have a universal clipboard, and everyone else can see their Facebook timeline after a smaller delay. Rather than blanket approval Apple could choose to only grant this permission to certain developers during the app approval process, but who is to say a clipboard manager deserves this functionality over Facebook? A much, much larger segment of the market would lobby for the latter over the former, and Facebook unfortunately has a bit more sway with Apple than Tapbots. This is why we can’t have nice things.