While it’s undeniable that iPads are better when it comes to multitasking and productivity, your iPhone has a few tricks up its sleeve to rival even the best iPad features. One thing about iPadOS is that it is very easy to highlight editable text with gestures, but it is just as easy on iOS when you know all the secrets.
Of all the methods described below, option 8 is probably the coolest as hardly anyone is aware of it. So if you’re looking at any of these tips, make sure you don’t miss it. But before we get to the little-known text selection tricks, let’s talk about the standard way to select text, which varies based on iOS version.
The normal way to select text for editing
On iOS 1
That won’t work on iOS 13 or iOS 14. Instead, you have to place the insertion point in the right place, tap the cursor to bring up the menu, choose ‘Select’ or ‘Select All’ and then a grab point to select more or less text. You can also touch and hold a word or number until it marks itself, then drag the grab points.
Only on iOS 13, after selecting a word or number, you can also tap and hold to start dragging the grab points without lifting your finger. For some reason, this has been omitted in iOS 14.
Option 1: Double tap to highlight words or numbers
To select a word or number faster than hold on iOS 12, 13 and 14, double tap it. You can then drag the grab points as desired. Even better, hold your finger on the screen on the second tap, then move your finger left, right, up, or down to expand the highlighted selection.
Option 2: Triple tap to highlight sentences
On iOS 13 and 14, tapping a word or number three times selects the entire sentence. You can then drag the grab points to select more words, numbers, sentences, paragraphs, etc. as needed. However, your mileage may vary.
Although Apple touts this method in the iOS 13 and 14 user guides, tapping three times can select an entire paragraph in real life. I have tested several iOS updates with the same text documents, and a triple tap marks sentences in iOS 13.0, but it marks paragraphs for me on iOS 13.6.1, 13.7, 14.0.1, 14.2, 14.3, 14.4.2, and 14.5. It’s a shame, but hopefully Apple will fix the problem soon. We’ve contacted Apple but haven’t heard back yet.
Option 3: Quadruple tap to highlight paragraphs
On iOS 13 and 14, you can also tap a word or number four times quickly to select the entire paragraph it is in. However, if you’ve read option 2 above, you know that all you have to do is tap four times as tapping three times only highlights a sentence. Again, hopefully Apple will fix this problem.
Option 4: Press the keyboard to highlight words or numbers
Now things get interesting. On iOS 12, 13, and 14, you can use 3D Touch on iPhone models with display technology to unlock the hidden trackpad, place your insertion point, and highlight text.
On a 3D Touch model, press anywhere on the keyboard until it turns light gray, then drag the cursor as needed. Without lifting your finger, release the pressure slightly, then press deeply to select the current word or number that contains the insertion point. Release your finger when you are done.
If it doesn’t work, make sure to release the pressure a bit before pressing again. And if it still doesn’t work, make sure “3D Touch” is enabled in your accessibility settings. If it’s turned off and you don’t want to turn it on, or if your model doesn’t have 3D Touch at all, proceed to option 8 below.
Option 5: Press the keyboard to highlight sentences
As with option 4, press iOS 12, 13 and 14 with 3D Touch anywhere on the keyboard to reveal the trackpad, move the insertion point where necessary and release the pressure a little. Instead of pressing deeper again, press deeply twice in a row, highlighting the current sentence and then release your finger.
Option 6: Press the keyboard to highlight paragraphs
Another 3D Touch trackpad gesture on iOS 12, 13 and 14 can also select entire paragraphs. Press anywhere on the keyboard to display the trackpad, move the insertion point where necessary, and release the pressure slightly. Then press deeply three times in a row, which should highlight the current paragraph, and release your finger.
Option 7: Press and drag on the keyboard to highlight text
We are not done with 3D Touch yet. On iPhone models with iOS 12, 13, and 14, there is another way to use the hidden trackpad to highlight more than just a word or number, and it’s useful if you don’t want to highlight an entire sentence or paragraph.
Press anywhere on the keyboard to display the trackpad, move the insertion point where necessary, release the pressure slightly, then press deeper to select the current word or number. But this time, move your finger left, right, up, or down to drag a grab point and select all the text you want. Release your finger when you are done.
Option 8: Press and drag the space bar to highlight text
OK, so you don’t have 3D Touch, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have a hidden trackpad either. Since there is no pressure sensitivity on your iPhone model, pressing words or numbers deeply won’t mark anything as seen above.
Instead, press the spacebar until the keyboard turns light gray and drag the cursor as needed. Without lifting your finger, place another finger on the trackpad and don’t move it. Slide the finger that initiated the trackpad function left, right, up, or down to select more text. Release your fingers when you are done.
Option 9: Press and drag the space bar to highlight text
It’s the same heading as option 8, but that’s because there is supposedly another way to select text on the software trackpad. The Apple User Guide for iOS 14 contains the following directions. And here’s an archived version of the instructions in case Apple ever changes them.
Turn the on-screen keyboard into a trackpad
- Touch and hold the spacebar with one finger until the keyboard turns light gray.
- Move the insertion point by dragging on the keyboard.
- To select text with handles, tap and hold the keyboard until handles appear at the insertion point, and then move your fingers. (To use the trackpad to move the insertion point, drag the insertion point to a new location before handles appear.)
As you can see, it says to place the insertion point where needed and then wait for “handles” to appear, which should mean the grapple points. No matter how long you wait, nothing happens unless you place a second finger on the trackpad, as described in option 8.
Maybe option 8 is what Apple intended to list on their site. Step 3 of Apple’s manual says “move your fingers,” even though steps 1 and 2 did not mention fingers other than one. To confuse things even more, the comment in parentheses (parentheses I added) after step 3 just sounds repetitive for steps 1 and 2.
We’ve contacted Apple regarding the issue but haven’t heard back yet.
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