Copy and paste across apple devices with universal clipboard

Universal Clipboard is one of the latest Continuity features available on Apple Devices.

Before Universal Clipboard Apple previously released Handoff as a Continuity feature for starting a document within an app on one Apple device and then continuing that document using the same app on another Apple device. I blogged about this feature on its’ release within the first part of my ‘OS X Yosemite hidden feature series’ back in 2014.

What is Universal Clipboard?

Universal Clipboard expands on the Handoff feature by offering the ability to copy content from any app on an Apple device into that device’s clipboard, send that clipboard data into the clipboard of another Apple device, then allowing you to paste that content into any app on that second Apple device. In other words, you can now sync your ‘copy and paste’ data between Apple devices!

No more having to email yourself information to get it onto another device, sync content to the cloud and pull it back down again, or using Handoff to transfer the document from one device to another and then copying out of that document into a document on a different app.

Universal Clipboard works between two Apple Devices. That can be a two Macs, two iOS devices or one of each platform. Universal Clipboard is designed to copy and paste any text, photo or video content between two Apple devices’ clipboards.

UniversalClipboard2

How does it work?

I’d love to say ‘It’s Magic’! But alas, that isn’t the case!
This feature works only on Apple devices running macOS Sierra (version 10.12.0) or later and iOS 10.0 or later.
You will also require any two of the following devices :

  • iPhone 5 or later
  • iPad Pro or later
  • iPad (4th generation) or later
  • iPad Air or later
  • iPad mini 2 or later
  • iPod touch (6th generation) or later
  • MacBook (Early 2015) or later
  • MacBook Pro (2012) or later
  • MacBook Air (2012) or later
  • Mac mini (2012) or later
  • iMac (2012) or later
  • Mac Pro (Late 2013) or later

(Where i have mentioned ‘or later’, the product listed may currently be the latest product in that family at the time of writing, but listing ‘or later’ will safeguard my blog from any later releases in that product family!)

Once you have any 2 of the devices listed above running the correct OS versions, the initial setup is similar as that for other Continuity features :

  1. Sign into iCloud with the same Apple ID on all your devices. (System Preferences>iCloud on macOS Sierra, Settings>iCloud on iOS 10)
  2. Make sure Bluetooth is enabled on all your devices. (System Preferences>Bluetooth on macOS Sierra, Settings>Bluetooth on iOS 10)
  3. Make sure Wi-Fi is enabled on all your devices. (Wi-Fi menu bar at top right of the screen on macOS Sierra, Settings>Wi-Fi on iOS 10)
  4. Enable Handoff on both devices if not already enabled. (System Preferences>General on macOS Sierra, Settings>General>Handoff on iOS 10)
  5. Make sure your devices are near each other. Universal Clipboard is proximity-dependent (due to Bluetooth discovery. No more than 10 metres!)
  6. Copy your text, photo, or video on one device within any app
  7. Paste your text, photo, or video on your other device within any app

Let’s see Universal Clipboard in action!

Steps 1 to 3

I shall assume from the above steps that everyone is happy signing into iCloud and enabling Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. So i’ll start at the 4th step!

Step 4

Enable Handoff on both devices if not already enabled. (System Preferences>General on macOS Sierra, Settings>General>Handoff on iOS 10) :

Enabling Handoff on macOS Sierra:

UniversalClipboard3

Enabling Handoff on iOS 10:

UniversalClipboard4

Step 5

Make sure your devices are near each other. Universal Clipboard is proximity-dependent (due to Bluetooth discovery. No more than 10 metres!)

Best practice would be to therefore keep both your devices on your desk whilst doing this. The nearer the better!

Step 6

Copy your text, photo, or video on one device within any app.

So for this demo i will create a new document with text in TextEdit on my Mac :

UniversalClipboard5

I then simply selected to copy this text to my Macs’ clipboard :

UniversalClipboard6

Step 7

Paste your text, photo, or video on your other device within any app.

For this demo i chose to paste the content into a new note in the Notes app on my iPhone :

UniversalClipboard7

There was then a couple of seconds delay as my iPhone received the clipboard content from my Mac, notice the ‘Paste’ action is greyed out :

UniversalClipboard8

Voilà! My Mac clipboard content that was copied from TextEdit, has been pasted into a new note in the Notes app on my iPhone :

UniversalClipboard9

What is happening behind the scenes for Universal Clipboard to work?
What actually happens when you select to copy an item, is that the device then advertises over Bluetooth that it has something in its’ clipboard. Unlike Handoff, there is actually no visual indicator that anything has actually happened apart from you selecting ‘copy’. You have to trust in the technology! On your second device when you select ‘paste’, there may be a slight pause as your second device requests the contents of the first devices’ clipboard and the first device sends this over to the second devices’ clipboard.
That’s all there is to it!

Troubleshooting Universal Clipboard

As all communication is local, (none of your data is sent to Apple), you must be signed into the same iCloud account on both devices and have Bluetooth and Wi-Fi enabled. (You do NOT require an active Internet connection, just Wi-Fi enabled).

Therefore, the classic ‘sign out and sign back in’ technique is applicable here if this feature is not working. On both devices sign out of your iCloud account and then sign back in again. Ensure both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi are enabled. Again, try turning these off and then back on again. Or enable Airplane Mode on your iOS device and then turn Airplane Mode back off. Make sure your two devices are close to each other too. You could always try copying and pasting again. The clipboard will eventually clear itself and therefore if you are not quick enough, the copy content will not be available to paste.

What if you want to disable Universal Clipboard? There doesn’t seem to be a way to turn off just this feature alone. However, you could disable all Handoff features in General preferences.

Blog Summary

I hope you have found this blog useful and look out for other iOS new features, tips and tricks on our Blog.

If you would like to learn more about macOS, iOS or just the Mac in general, then take a look at our collection of introductory training courses and iOS Training courses.

We also have a large collection of OS X, iOS App Development and Apple Hardware certification courses available which you may also find useful.

Disclaimer:

While the author has taken care to provide our readers with accurate information, please use your discretion before acting upon information based on the blog post. Amsys will not compensate you in any way whatsoever if you ever happen to suffer a loss/inconvenience/damage because of/while making use of information in this blog.

This blog was written and demonstrated using a MacBook Pro (Retina, Mid 2012) running macOS Sierra Version 10.12.1 and an iPhone 6s running iOS Version 10.1.1. These were the latest releases of macOS Sierra and iOS at the time of writing.

2 Replies to "Copy and paste across apple devices with universal clipboard"

  • James

    I really think there should be an indicator here, an additional Universal Paste option to differentiate from the local clipboard – as I sit here with my wife on my iPad I just know there’s going to be some rogue clipping and pasting going on soon enough.

  • Russell Harris

    Hi James

    I agree. A pull down menu to choose between local and universal Clipboard would be great. Or at least the option to turn this off.

    Apple have always stated that everyone should have their own Apple ID and so they are assuming that no one else but yourself is using a device logged into your iCloud account.

    My wife often uses my iPad whilst I’m using my MacBook Pro, so I’m sure at some point we will end up copying and pasting what the other has selected!

    Still, I think this is a nice addition to the continuity lineup.

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