How to Drag and Drop on the iPad in the iOS 11 Beta

Drag and drop on the iPad is currently a bit awkward but yet awesomely powerful at the same time. The entire process involves a retooled (and not necessarily for the better) multitasking process and the frequent need to use multiple fingers — and even multiple hands — on the iPad at the same time. But the result can both boost productivity and extend what is possible even on a PC.

At its root, drag and drop is an alternate to the venerable copy-and-paste.

When you move a file from one directory to another folder on your PC, you are really just doing a cut and a paste using your mouse instead of menu commands. And with the iPad already supporting a universal clipboard, you can copy a picture from the Photos app to the clipboard, open the Notes app and paste it into one of your notes. So why do we need drag and drop?

First, drag-and-drop makes the process smoother when you can just open up the Photos app and the Notes app side-by-side and drag photos from one to the other. But more importantly, you can pick up multiple photos and drag them all at once to the destination app. This makes choosing multiple photos to send in an email quite simple (and something that copy and paste can't do).

And talk about versatility! You can even choose photos from multiple sources. So you can pick up an image in the Photos app, open Safari to add a photo from a web page and then open your Mail app to drop them into a message.

Note: This article refers to the drag-and-drop feature available in the beta version of the iPad's iOS operating system known as iOS 11. In order to use the drag-and-drop functionality, you will first need to install the iOS 11 beta. Find out how to sign up for the iOS 11 beta.

What to Drag and Drop on the iPad

So what can you pick up?

Almost anything that can be defined as an 'object'. This includes pictures, files or even selected text. You can also pick up links in the Safari browser and drop them into a text message, a note, etc. You can even pick up a text file from iCloud Drive and drop it into Notepad where it will appear as the contents of the text file.  

Drag and drop works both within the same apps and across multiple apps. For example, you can grab a link in Safari while in landscape mode, move it to the side of the screen and drop it into the blank space that is created to open up a split view of both websites in the browser. Or you drag the same link into a new message in the Mail app. 

In the beta, drag-and-drop mainly works with Apple's apps such as Notes, Mail, Safari, Files, Photos, etc. After iOS 11 is released, third-party apps will begin adding support for the feature.

How to Drag and Drop on the iPad

The actual idea of drag-and-drop is simple, but its implementation is currently (and may remain) complex. Dragging an object like a file or a photo from one spot to the next is as easy as moving your finger, but when you take into account multiple objects and multiple apps, you may need to lay the iPad on a table or your lap and use both of your hands.

  • To pick up an object, simply press your finger against the screen for a few moments. The object will pop out of where it is located in the app. Once it pops out of its original place, you can move your finger around the screen and the photo or object will remain stuck to your finger.
  • To pick up additional objects, tap on them with one of your other fingers. This is where using two hands makes the process much easier. If you are selecting multiple images in the Photos app, you can tap each picture to add them to the objects being dragged.
  • When you are dragging images, websites, text or other objects, the operation of the iPad remains exactly the same as if you were not dragging anything. This means you can close out of the app by clicking the Home Button, open another app and drop your selection into it. More importantly, you can open up a brand new app and add to your selected items, but you will need to use a new finger to pick up items from a different app. And, yes, you can use multiple fingers to drag objects.
  • You can switch fingers! If you will pardon the pun, this is a very handy feature. You can switch the selection to another finger on the same hand or to your other hand. You will simply need to place the 'new' finger close to the finger 'holding' the selection and you will see the selection move under the new finger. When the selection moves to the new finger, you know you can lift the original from the screen.
  • You can also bring up the dock to open apps or to multitask. Again, you can operate the iPad as normal while you have a selection, so if you move a finger from the bottom edge of the iPad toward the top, the app dock will be revealed. You can use the dock to open a new app, or you can drag an app from the dock to the middle of the screen to open it on top of the app as a floating column. This will allow you to use both apps at the same time. 
  • If you know you are dragging from one app and dropping into another app, it is easiest to open both apps on the screen first in slide-over or split-view and then drag from one app to the other.

How to Use Files and Drag-and-Drop to Transfer Photos to Your iPad

There are any number of great ways to use the new drag-and-drop feature from picking out photos to include in a document or email message to grabbing selections of text from a website to drop into Notes, but perhaps the most versatile is how it can interact with the Files app.

A great example is importing photos from your PC to your iPad. While possible now, drag-and-drop will make this a much easier process. Simply place your photos in an iCloud folder, open Files and Photos in split-view on your iPad and then use drag-and-drop to move multiple photos at a time from the folder in iCloud to whichever album you want to place them into within the Photos app. There's no need to plug your iPad into your computer, use iTunes or to transfer from a cloud storage service by saving each individual photo to your camera roll or use a third-party app. In iOS 11, it is just a simple drag-and-drop procedure.

The ability to copy files and photos so easily will become incredibly useful once the Files app supports third-party cloud storage services like Dropbox, Google Drive, etc.