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There is a very interesting article on the 'invisible' problem of editing text on mobile that highlights the lack of novel and tailored UI design patterns for text editing.

One of the really interesting idea proposed is to create a tap action that is clear and simple on mobile devices, like a mouse click on desktop. This means turning a tap into a very short drag, so when you tap to the side of the handle and lift quickly, the cursor will jump to the new location; if however you drag slowly, the cursor drags to the same location.

Visually, the text handle will also remain to encourage users to drag rather than tap, and designed to be semi-transparent so that it didn’t obscure the text.

enter image description here

Are there any usability or accessibility issues that would make it not appropriate for mobile devices? Or is it the usual "it's not important/cool enough" excuse?

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I think that this is mainly an issue with typed text vs readable text. For example, on my desktop, I can click the text within your question and nothing happens because I can't edit that text. I would think the same applies to mobile, where if I tap text that I didn't type but I see the blinking line, I would think I could edit/delete it. Having the user hold down (my current phone's behavior) gives a clear indication that the user wants to drag/highlight a part of the text rather than delete/edit it. Currently, on my phone, I can tap any part of my typed message/email and move my cursor just like in your tap action example. I think it would get confusing if you applied that to read only text since you can't change any part of it. Additionally, I find it really hard to tap exactly where I want within a text, so I assume there will be some accessibility issues regarding accuracy.

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  • The intent of this design pattern is to apply it to the context of editing text on mobile, so the text handle would indicate that a section of text is editable. And if it isn't, then the handle would not be visible. The point about it being hard to tap is the reason why the text handle should be persistent rather than something that is triggered on touch interaction.
    – Michael Lai
    Commented Oct 11, 2023 at 22:54
  • @MichaelLai Maybe I'm misunderstanding, but then how is this different current phones? Editable content shows the cursor on tap, and has done so for as long as I can remember.
    – Gene
    Commented Oct 11, 2023 at 22:58
  • As the author points out in the article, the cursor is displayed to mark the location of the editable text, but it is very difficult to interact it with your fingertips, and it also disappears after a set amount of time, after which it is difficult to position accurately again. So the idea of a persistent text handle connected to the cursor that allows easier manipulation (shown in the image) could be a potential solution to the problem.
    – Michael Lai
    Commented Oct 11, 2023 at 23:02
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    I think this is already implemented then. My notepad on android has a persistent cursor that I can drag around anywhere on the page. Because this is primarily a note taking app, it makes sense. On other apps, where only part of the page is editable, I think it just serves as a distraction and gives the perception that something is selected. The user may not want to have anything to do with the editable content, so until the user selects it, there shouldn't be a cursor there. It's a matter of using the feature only when necessary (notetaking app) rather than putting it everywhere possible
    – Gene
    Commented Oct 12, 2023 at 16:23
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+50

Ok, there's quite a lot to unpack here.

First thigs first, this solution will not pass any kind of WCAG test, its transparency kills the main reason it is there: to be easily discoverable.

Offset magnifier assumes that you cover the row you would like to navigate with your controlling finger, hence the offset. For that same reason there's actually one cursor visible on the screen during that interaction. So the point of making the magnifier inline defeats the purpose of the magnifier.

Pressing harder to select word while draging a cursor is as ambigious and non-discrete as it can get with mobile touchscreens, seriously. Even with a dedicated tech tailored to that specific purpose (force touch on iPhones) it didn't take off at all, discoverability has been very poor.

Yeah, and then put some pretty intervening features (like "cut" and "undo") on top of that noisy gesture! That won't backfire at all is any of the "less than ideal" environmental situations, I'm sure.

Now for the statements of the author: "First, as too many people mistakenly see text editing as “done”, there is little appetite to fix it." - in other words, there're not many people that consider this a problem at all

"Second, users have been trained to cope with this error-prone approach for well over a decade." - people do get used to bad things, but if the problem is significant and the solution is elegant, then the adoption rate is pretty substantial. It didn't take long for all the mobile UX to switch to acceleration based scrolling from the scrollbar based, even though people has been using scrollbars for a thousand years. Same thing with a mouse wheel.

And finally, the solution (that has been already implemented): Move the cursor controls to the place where text input happens - the keyboard. It's already open and you can easily engage a dedicated mode for these types of interactions. But android and iOs keyboards already do that.

Thank you.

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