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‘Copy and Paste” for Windows Phone 7 Q&A with Priyanka Singhal

Michael Stroh on Windows Phone blog posted a Q&A about Windows Phone 7’s “copy and paste” with Priyanka Singhal, program manager on the Windows Phone engineering team.

Here’s the Q&A:

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: So you’re saying that behind the scenes copying and pasting isn’t as simple as it looks.
A: It’s complex. To someone using the phone, it just works. But to make it “just work” you’ve to make sure that all apps 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%” 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: 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’ve 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% 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’ve to go and chase down what they’re really trying to do.

Q: Will copy and paste change for Mango?
A: There’re 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.

[Source: Windows Phone blog]

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