How To Use Universal Clipboard to Quickly Copy Text and Photos Between iPhone and Mac


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There’s a new Continuity feature in iOS 10 and macOS Sierra, and it’s so hidden that well, you might have missed it altogether. If you look into Settings, there’s no mention of it. There’s no app for it either. It’s called Universal Clipboard. And it’s a classic Jobsian era Apple feature. It. Just. Works.

Or so Apple would like you to believe.

Here’s what the feature does. As long as you’re signed into the same iCloud account between all your computers and have Continuity features enabled, you can copy something from one device and paste it on another. Without doing anything extra. And this works between all iOS 10 and macOS Sierra devices.

How It Just Works

It works for both text and images. As it’s technically a Continuity feature, it would require Bluetooth and Wi-Fi to be enabled. But I was able to use this feature successfully even with the Wi-Fi disabled. The Bluetooth and Cellular Data were turned on.

This is a very basic feature. There’s no UI for it at all. There’s no clipboard history. No clipboard manager.

And there are limitations. Thankfully. The cross-device clipboard only exists for 2 minutes. And it’s not permanent. Which means you can overwrite it by copying something else on another device (which is how it should be).

Images Are A Different Story

I have to say, the feature works remarkably well with text. Just copy a link on the iPhone (select text and then tap “Copy”), go to the browser on Mac, paste it (Command + V) and go. It really doesn’t get simpler than this. It’s elegant, it’s innovative, it’s genius.

But images are a whole different story. First of all, you can’t paste images directly into Finder. It will show a progress bar but it won’t actually paste anything.

To actually paste an image, you need to be into an app. Like Keynote or Preview.

To paste an image in Preview, open the app and from the menu bar, go to “File” -> “New from Clipboard“.

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You’ll see a progress bar and the image will show up in the Preview window. Then you’ll need to save it to disk.

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Safe to say, at least for images, Universal Clipboard isn’t going to be replacing AirDrop anytime soon.

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AirDrop has its own issues, yes, but moving multiple images with it is as simple as copy and pasting text with Universal Clipboard. It just takes one tap.

Pro Options

As we’ve established, Universal Clipboard is a very basic feature. It’s awesome but it’s clearly designed for the average user. And if you’re reading iPhoneHacks, you’re no average user.

If you really like this feature but want something more like an actual clipboard history, management, multi clipboard merge, and an actual UI, you’ll be happy to know that there are third party options.

copied

The best is Copied. There’s a $7.99 Mac app and a free iOS app with $2.99 upgrade. But in exchange of better features, you’ll have to do a bit more work, especially on iOS.

Once you’ve copied something you want to send to another device, you’ll need to add the clipboard to the app. It’s pretty easy to do using the Notification Center widget. Copied uses iCloud and it’s actually pretty reliable.

Alternatives are CloudClip (free) and Command-C ($3.99).

My Experience

I’ve been using the iOS 10 and macOS betas for the past couple of weeks and my experience with Universal Clipboard has been iffy at best. When it works, it’s amazing. When it doesn’t, it leaves you frustrating.

For some reason, it works really well between my iPhone and Mac. But not so much with my iPad. But again, I’ve been using beta so I’ll only be able to make a call after using the stable release for a couple of weeks. I hope this feature works better than AirDrop, at least the text part.

Troubleshooting

If Universal Clipboard isn’t working for you, do the following.

  • Make sure you’re running iOS 10 and macOS Sierra on your respected devices.
  • Make sure Bluetooth and Wi-Fi are enabled on both devices.
  • Make sure you’re signed into the same iCloud account on all devices.
  • Make sure “Handoff” feature is turned on in Settings app in iOS. You can find it under “General”.
  • Sign in and out of the iCloud account.
  • Try restarting the devices.

Your Experience With Universal Clipboard

How has your experience been with the Universal Clipboard feature in the latest iOS and macOS releases? Do you have any questions about the feature? Fire off in the comments below.

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