10 questions for the “queen” of copy and paste

10 questions for the “queen” of copy and paste

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Many people have closely followed the rollout of software updates these last few months, but few with as much personal interest as Priyanka Singhal. Singhal’s official title is program manager on the Windows Phone engineering team. Unofficially, she’s the “queen of copy and paste,” as some of her co-workers good-naturedly call her. It was Singhal who led the team that created this feature, the highlight of the March update.

In some ways helping create copy and paste for Windows Phone was Singhal’s destiny. When she arrived at Microsoft from her native India in 2004, she landed in the Macintosh Business Unit, the group responsible for Office for Mac. Her first job was working on the word processor’s editing features, and over the years she’s spent a lot of hours shuffling words around a screen—and pondering better ways to do it. I sat down with Singhal recently near her office in Studio F on the Microsoft campus to talk about what it was like to create one of the most anticipated phone features of the last few months. –MS

Q: First, I have a confession: copy and paste isn’t a phone feature I use much. But I know many folks are passionate about it. What am I missing?

A: Let’s say your wife sends you an appointment to your daughter’s piano recital, and now you want to save that address in your address book. Or you find something on the web that’s really cool and want to send it to a friend in an email. Or you get an email and you want to quote it in an SMS. Or you want to look up a tracking number—basically anything you want to save or share but don’t want to type again. Your phone should be able to take that burden away from you.

Q: In your previous job, you worked on text editing features like copy and paste on the desktop. How is a phone different?

A: On your desktop you can do things like Paste Special, Select All, Cut. On a phone, more options means more complexity, so you need software that can make the best choice for you. Which means you need to understand your users better and not just say, “Here’s a bunch of choices.” The phone should take away the complexity and make life as simple as possible.

Priyanka Singhal and part of the team that created the copy and paste feature for Windows Phone. (from left) Singhal, Adam Swank, Nataliya Starikova, Ben Carter, Nagaraj S Patil, and Uday Kumar Bandaru

Copycats: Priyanka Singhal and part of the team that created the copy and paste feature for Windows Phone. (From left) Singhal, Adam Swank, Nataliya Starikova, Ben Carter, Nagaraj S Patil, and Uday Kumar Bandaru.

Q: So you’re saying that behind the scenes copying and pasting isn’t as simple as it looks.

A: It is complex. To someone using the phone, it just works. But to make it “just work” you have to make sure that all applications on the phone support the same functionality. That takes a large amount of coordination. Creating copy and paste involved how many teams? Probably 9 to 10 from inception to shipping. A lot of people have a stake and a lot of people have opinions. Making sure that everybody shares your thoughts, understands your vision—that’s the most challenging and most rewarding part of this job.

Q: How did you develop the feature?

A: Our initial design was a floating toolbar with options to cut, copy, and paste. So you select something, you tap on an icon to show the toolbar, then you get more options. But it just felt too heavy. We thought we could be smarter. We wanted the feature to be immediately available when users need it, and just go away when they don’t.

Q: So what then?

A: We noticed that a user is either copying or pasting— not doing both at the same time. If they’re selecting text, most likely they’re going to copy. If they just placed a caret, most likely they’re going to paste. We said, wouldn’t it make more sense to have either copy or paste come up based on what someone is doing?

So our phone contextually knows what your next action is going to be. Just taking away that one step—choosing options from a toolbar menu—made it a lot simpler.

Q: What problems or challenges did you encounter along the way?

A: Interestingly, we found people usually call this feature “cut and paste”. And initially we did get feedback from teams who said, “What about cut?”

But [our research showed that] people usually don’t cut. They almost always copy, especially on a mobile device. So then we said, Do we really need cut? For the “90 percent” scenario, if you don’t need cut, then you can get rid of it. Up till now we’ve been proven right. People still call the feature “cut and paste,” but they’re happy with copy and paste. If someone really wants to cut, they can still hit backspace after copying and the selected text goes away.

Q: What’s the toughest part of your job?

A: Understanding what users want when I can’t really go and talk to each one of those people. You really have to keep your eyes open for clues.

Says Singhal: “The best part is that I can tell my mom, ‘This thing that you see on this phone, I did that!’”

Says Singhal: “The best part is that I can tell my mom, ‘This thing that you see on this phone, I did that!’”

Q: Any examples?

A: Multiple paste. From looking at posts on blogs and listening to the feedback from our internal testers, we found people want to be able to copy once and paste multiple times. I would never have imagined. I was thinking we’d make it possible to paste once and then we’re done.

So then you have to go and ask those people: What were you doing, Sir, when you wanted to paste again? It was really eye opening for me. It wasn’t the 90 percent scenario, but it still wasn’t something we could live without. And so we support multiple paste. People don’t always tell you everything they’re thinking. Sometimes you have to go and chase down what they’re really trying to do.

Q: Will copy and paste change for Mango?

A: There are subtle improvements here and there to make the experience smoother. In Mango, when you tap on copy you get a sound, so that people get more sense of success. We’re tweaking the look and feel of the buttons and making some UI [user interface] improvements to make sure it’s more clear that multiple paste is possible.

Q: What are you most proud of?

A: It would have been so easy to do the exact same thing as everybody else. It’s always more work to solve even one problem scenario that others have ignored. But we’re not just another phone. The best part is that I can tell my mom, “This thing that you see on the phone? I did that!”

45 Comments
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  • Marcellus
    12 Posts

    A phone shouldn't have copy and paste but whatever :/ people are just lazy.

  • While copy and paste is a brilliant feature, and one that i do use a lot, there is one feature that i think is greatly needed for the UI. The live tiles work well, however when going into the app list why is it not possible to group apps into folders? at the moment my app list is maybe only 20 apps long, but its still a pain to sometimes find what i'm looking for. If i was able to group apps I believe it would massively improve the ui experience.

  • Ajay M
    11 Posts

    The paste feature donot work in landscape mode, why you have implemented it in such way? It is very annoying to change it to potrait mode everytime while filling the forms etc. Please update the functionality to allow paste in landscape mode. Donot do half work. Keep doing the good job.

  • Sheeds
    205 Posts

    Haven't really needed to use Copy and Paste as yet....but this was an interesting backstory to the NoDo C+P enhancement.  I have been able to press and hold on an individual SMS message, and copy its contents into Onenote or email - and that's pretty seamless.

    On that note however, would it be possible to get a context menu on a long press of an SMS that gives the option of selecting ALL messages in that stream (ie multiple) - as I have seen a number of people express a desire to have this feature....?

  • Ffaarg
    1 Posts

    From reading this blog I understand it is okay to leave feedback not directly related to the post.  

    I just bought an HTC mozart off contract - cost me about $750 here is South Africa.  While there are many things I love there are some serious usability issues.  

    - Battery life appears to be very bad.  I am not even sure my phone will last a day with moderate use.

    - The Market place.  I selected UK, but would like to change it to SA but I can't change it anywhere.

    - Search is not well implemented.  I mean when I am in music there is no way to just search my local music.  There are numerous places where I want to do a local search and I can't I get web content and store results.

    - Maps functionality in South Africa is not even functional.  Can't find any locations.  It is in fact useless.  This is basic functionality that works flawlessly in Google Maps.

    - The phone dialer.  I want to call a number in my contacts quickly. I don't want to open up people and have to scroll to find.  HTC sense works very well I just starting entering the persons name and the list is filtered.  WP7 s tedious in comparison.

    - Some 3rd party apps, I refer specifically to the Bible apps I purchased are really slow.  I mean an app for which there is an iphone and android runs very smoothly is incredibly jerky when scrolling on WP7.  How is it possible that this is the case?  I mean it is just scrolling text?

    - The web browser is weak.  I know this is being addressed in the major update.

    I have had the phone for 2 days and love the general interface, but battery life, search integration, maps and  the dialer are making me regret my purchase and also make it impossible to recommend WP7 to anyone else.

    P.S. The keyboard is fantastic.

  • Nater
    147 Posts

    I meant to say this os is rubbish and all you guys are doing is spewing b.s. And excuses.  Maybe you don't care if we buy inferior products but we value our money.  This is the most half baked piece of cap mobile os I've ever used.  Should have just given winmo a ui revamp...

  • Nater
    147 Posts

    Copy paste is terribly implemented and editing is terrible.  One tap should place the cursor.  A double tap on a word.should select it.  I've already fine back to android this ostensibly is rubbish and all you guys do is ape bull cap and excuses.

    There are 500 dollar phones.  What the hill is wrong with you people.

  • Hello, thanks for hearing users and Implementing copy/paste. Another great feature missing is a mount to My Documents directory..   I have a couple of documents and couple of .pdf files to copy as to have them handy for a meeting but there's no way to put my pdf's @ the device.... This tends to be my #1 reason for frustration

  • VictorWPB
    47 Posts

    @ gadgetebz I agree with you iPhone implementation is more parctical. SELECT, CUT/COPY and PAST. Android is fallowing the same patern, but it needs improvment and Google will make it perfect in its major Q4, 2011 update.

  • WixosTrix
    16 Posts

    @gseth if you tap and hold in a within the text area you are typing in, the cursor will appear and you can place it anywhere.  Also note, if a word is highlighted you need to make sure you aren't tapping and holding on top of that word or the cursor will not show up.  Just tap a little off to the side or anywhere else in the box.

  • gadgetebz
    19 Posts

    @Michael Stroh please pass my comments to Priyanka Singhal being an Omnia 7 user I actually only had copy and paste for about 2 weeks before having to swap my phone because of a hardware fault and then being unable to update since...

    Anyway even though it is a welcome feature I found it limited and really hope you are going to enhance this in future to include more than text etc...  ....However the interview suggested no much will be changing for MANDO. Personally I will be very disappointed if this is the case. Especially as you are updating SKYDRIVE and OFFICE it seems for MANGO.

    The explanation of not including "CUT" is so weak. Microsoft intends to sell millions and millions of phones so please realise that people will use your phones in different ways. If by some miracle you sell Thirty Million Phones by mid 2012 and only 10% want "CUT" that's still Three Million People!!!

    I seem to remember your previous surveys was the reason you left COPY and PASTE out in the first place. Apparently SMART LINKS were all that was required even though they usually only worked in the USA.

    Now if I make a mistake in an email I often want to CUT and PASTE a paragraph to a different place. Come on Guys!! why always go half way?? Please just include the FULL feature "CUT, COPY and PASTE" !!!  Can this really be so hard??  

    Every other platform does it the full feature..........   Look at this youtube clip to see it implemented correctly on the Iphone.  Would be great if we could get some comment on this?

    Thanks

    www.youtube.com/watch

  • In order of priority for me, multitasking, Bluetooth audio from video profile,  SMS backup and restore, out of office feature in outlook, email search from Exchange server, html email support, conversational email,...

  • How do I copy Images from a Website to email? How do I copy a file to email? I think the implementation is still not very feature complete to call it copy paste. Just look at the implementation on the iphone. It will automatically select the paragraph if you tap on it and the selection is more intuitive. www.youtube.com/watch

  • i just want to say, aside from features like multitasking, what Windows Phone 7 has- especially copy & paste- is far better than in many ways then what other os's have. for example, using copy and paste on an ipad feels like hell whereas the Windows phone 7 is just amazing.

  • King
    32 Posts

    @razer2911 when your entering in text, if you press and hold anywhere in the text field you can drag the cursor before or after whichever character you need to edit. Or perhaps I'm misunderstanding your question/complaint.

    Thx for the insightful interview mike. If the copy and past queen and team is still reading this, I enjoy the current implementation but I think one way to make it even better would be to add pictures to the pallet of items you can copy. As of now I can share any picture on the web. But if i wanted to put a picture in a document I'd have to save it to the phone then find it to insert it in the document. That would save a couple steps and jive with windows phone being the platform that gets things done quickest. Keep up the hard work!

  • @bookmark71, sing0178, and haxpor: Thanks for your notes!

    @Martin Zugec: Hidden SSID support is on the to-do list.

    @José Luis De la Cerda: yes, that's what Priyanka is making reference to in my interview with her. The team is on that one--making the paste icon more discoverable.

    @Pete Bennett: You're right: I missed an opportunity to mention that. But I did link to the help article...and then I reread it and saw that it doesn't point out that sometimes you have to swipe the icon back into view.  I'll make sure it's on the list of things to add.

    @gseth: The team is well aware of this one too. But thanks for providing a link to your post, I'll make sure they see it!

  • I receive forwarded email from my boss contain someone's email address, so how do i continue to email that person without copying that email address?

  • I dont have much to say here.. thank you for your hard work.. but your hard work is really no that appreciating.. you guys spent 5 years in Developing Windows Phone 7.. and what you give us is iPhone v 1.0??? Why scrap Windows Mobile? anyways.. coming back to Copy Paste.. how could you forget about multiple paste? If you can think of 100 different ways and come up with smart solution.. dont you think multi paste was also very very necessary? I know we dont use it most of the time.. but we do need it because we use it once in a while..

    anwyays.. hope we dont have much of bad things in Windows Phone 7 after Mango update.. Mango update is anwyays coming too late for us to do anything.. I am WP7 developer.. I love it.. I have it.. but it lacks so many things.. Windows Mobile was the way to go.. but anyways.. Windows Phone is now way to go.. now dont screw it up.. bring almost everything in Mango please.

  • gseth
    3 Posts

    Copy and paste is great, but has serious limitations than just making the user aware that multiple paste is possible. I cannot paste any number into the dial screen. Seriously hinders the functionality. I have written an indept article about this which gives scenario examples where pasting a number is very much needed in the dial up screen: http://goo.gl/kN6fF

  • I feel that copy-paste has a drawback at least the way it's implemented in Windows Phone. Let's say i wanted to edit a character which is bang in the middle of a word, i can't do it. As soon as i tap the word, the whole of it gets selected and i can not get to the character i want to change. So, i eventually end up re-writing the whole word.

    It did work for me a couple of times where i double tapped the word but it's not very accurate.

    Something to think about for Mango release....

  • bazanime
    13 Posts

    @Jackleung: I'm not jumping ship just yet, after all i have a perfectly capable HTC Desire and Nokia N900 that handle A2DP flawlessly and i could easily relegate my HTC HD7 to my sock drawer for the time being.  No, I still have faith and hope that it will be fixed preferably before Mango and the limits of my saintly patience.

    @Yuriy:  Its is copy and paste in the sense that you copy what you want and paste it where you want without loosing the original. That is just fine.

    You can paste multiple times after just one copy, the problem is the paste icon appears only once and if you didn't know how to bring it back to do a multiple paste, you will be left scratching your head and being frustrated.

    @Singhal and team:

    I think its much better if you leave the paste option there, its only a few pixels and it can be differentiated from the auto-correct text to stop confusion.

    Additionally to aid non advanced users to understand what option they are seeing, its better to use descriptive text like "Copy" and "Paste" instead of tiny icons those outside MS Word or tech world would not understand. You highlight the text and box pops up saying "Copy" or "Copy Text" or even "Copy This" the latter being more pertinent to what the user has just done i.e. highlighted text.  As stated, the Paste option will be equally displayed in a word rather an icon.

    I absolutely understand how implementing these "sprites" may be difficult within the constraints you have stated in the article, and its always easy for us to be 'back-seat developers' without knowing the full story, but these are things that will VASTLY improve usability and endear your efforts to a far greater audience.  Its the little things that count.

    So please hear us out, take this on board and ponder it. We only want the best from the best which is you guys and frankly your competitors are not sitting around waiting for Mango, they are moving in strides.   Strap on that jet pack and beat them to the finish.

  • haxpor
    1 Posts

    I really love this kind of story, it's really inspiring others as well as me.

  • Would have been able to do it alone in 3 or 4 days !

  • I am sorry, I am a big wp7 fan but a 6 members team to implement copy/paste, This I don't understand ! I think I, and many others would Have b

  • still no news on being able to copy an entire sms / mms message thread and paste it into Word ???

    Or is it possible to iterate throught a message thread and copy and paste one at a time .... info on that API, please ...

    But really ... what's the issue with not being able to back up MMS to cloud   like with myPhone or to zune ???  Is this a "governance" / "secure sandbox" issue

  • Yuriy
    1 Posts

    "Multiple paste. From looking at posts on blogs and listening to the feedback from our internal testers, we found people want to be able to copy once and paste multiple times. I would never have imagined. I was thinking we’d make it possible to paste once and then we’re done."

    This isn't copy and paste, it's cut and paste. I'm not sure how you could "miss" this basic function, but here is an example for you: You CUT a link and you text it to someone, then you have to go back and copy it again to post it on your Facebook, then again on your Twitter, then yet again when you want to email it... the list can go on.

    I'm not trying to devalue all of your hard work (which I'm thankful for), however I also fail to see why Microsoft did the same mistake as Apple by releasing a phone without this extremely important function...

  • A great feature to have in a smartphone indeed. The only thing that I think is not completely natural for users is hiding the Paste icon after it's been used for the first time. It took me some time playing with my phone to swipe the bar where the icon appears in order to paste again what I had already copied and pasted.

    Regards.

  • Thank you for the Copy/Paste. I just want to beg you to do another "work". A screenshot capture, please? =P

  • jackleung
    13 Posts

    @bazanime, I am on the same boat with you.  I don't understand why BT A2DP is working so poorly on WP7 and this bug is listed on XDA developer's WP7 bug list page since the beginning.  But my patient is out and already purchased the Galaxy S II.

    @Pete Bennett, I feel the same with you.  I thought re-paste wasn't implement until I have to Google it to figure it out.  Why just to save this little screen space to confuse the user???

    I also found the copied buffer get lost from time to time, mostly after you put the phone is sleeping mode.

  • VictorWPB
    47 Posts

    Thank you Singhal, but I haven't received Copy/Past update. I guess, we Samsung Omnia 7 users are second class WP7 users and copy & past feature is too luxury for second class people.

  • Mod74
    19 Posts

    Copy/Paste? I look forward to this feature appearing on my phone.

  • Typhoon87
    27 Posts

    @krush you: Yes in the update at the bottom of the article it does state that it should be fixed in Mango. Here is a link to the original atical wmpoweruser.com/has-the-htc-update-caused-some-windows-phones-to-go-16-bit that one was posted way back on Apri 7th. That was over a month ago as there was no offical comment unitll that foum post on the update. to the articale from yesterday.

  • Krush You
    94 Posts

    @typhoon - you should read the rest of the article as there is an update that states this will be addressed in Mango

  • Typhoon87
    27 Posts

    @tsrblke:   check this link. Apperntly this is by design, if it is its a a bad design.

    wmpoweruser.com/microsoft-admits-nodo-16-bit-colour-banding-issuesays-its-by-design

  • Mantvydas
    15 Posts

    But I wanted to copy paste from the website on my phone! For example I see a telephone number on the website I just browsed to with my phone. I want to call that number. How do I do that?

  • The multiple paste option I find really useful, but it's not that intutive.  When I paste a piece of text, the paste button disappears (I guess to prevent accidental multiples).  It's possible to get the "paste" button back, but only by swiping the toolbar to the right).  Unfortunately, this action of bringing back the paste button doesn't seem to be documented (would have been useful to point it out in this blog post actually).

  • Great post and thanks a lot for sharing your thoughts when engineering Copy&Paste.

    It would be nice though if you could also write blog posts about upcoming features to get the feedback from users in advance...

    For me, it would be very interesting to know if support for hidden SSIDs is planned or not (very annoying if you are consultant)

    Martin

  • Fixie
    8 Posts

    im happy to read about something i cant use :(

  • bazanime
    13 Posts

    I appreciate the hard work behind this feature and many other features in the OS, its crazy how many things need to happen and be moved around for a feature that seems so small. So good on you guys.

    I must request that additional to the mango tweaks of copy/paste, please make the handles bigger, please please create a way to see the text covered by one's finger so you are sure where you can stop the selection, and make it less likely to jump to select an entire paragraph instead of just the two lines you may want.

    I'm still disappointed in the Bluetooth support of WP7. I keep have to switch between my convenient Bluetooth stereo headphones while listening to music, and a wired headphone to listen to video, I cant do both with my wireless headset and its very frustrating, highly unintuitive.

    I'd hate to wait for Mango to fix this, but alas my hopes for NODO to fix it never materialised so I'm forced to have more patience and keep juggling headphones.

    I'm sure you know there are many more modest but important feature requests/fixes, but i wont bog you down with those you can find them all around the internet forums.

    I just pray for a very smooth roll-out of Mango so it doesn't force people to seek third party means of update which you punish us for later (MAY update errors).

  • FuchiStar
    18 Posts

    MS, You do realize that Cut & Paste is not exciting. It does not warrant an entire post.

    You should spend 100% of your time explaining and/or fixing your horrid, horrid update process.

  • Can someone on the Windows Phone team take a look at this thread please? I was already annoyed about falling back to 16-bit colour after NoDo on my HD7 but now I had to roll back 7392 as it killed my battery life and as you will see on the thread it's not just me affected.

    forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php

    A response would be appreciated.

  • Never imagined that so much thought process goes behind the scenes. I love COPY PASTE on my Wp7, and thank you for making it so intuitive and awesome!

  • tsrblke
    327 Posts

    @Typhoon87,

    Oddly I don't see the same color gradient on the HTC screen prior to the AT&T screen.  The AT&T screen is new, is it just a crappy graphic?  Or am I just color blind.

  • Typhoon87
    27 Posts

    Will the color banding issues with the Surround after applying the nodo/firmware update combination? It can be fixed with a reg hack on unlocked phones but the rest of us are anything with a high gradiance looks terrible. Ironically the white AT&T boot screen is a perfect example of the problem.

  • Thank you for your hard work.  I appreciate it as well as the frequent update of this blog.