iPhone 6s in hand, finger pressing the display with 3D Touch

Apple customers have been able to leverage 3D Touch to turn their iPhone keyboard into a trackpad since iOS 9. Wouldn’t it be great if you could select text with precision on non-3D Touch devices, like older iPhones or the sixth-generation iPod touch? With iOS 12, you can!

This lets you swipe on the keyboard to position the cursor accurately when editing text.

Precise text selection, now without 3D Touch

Older iPhone owners needn’t miss out on one of the best features made possible by 3D Touch: precise text selection. As you know, a 3D Touch-enabled device lets you press firmly on the keyboard to use software trackpad where you drag the finger to scrub the cursor. This mode can be invoked on iPad by holding down two fingers anywhere on the keyboard.

All iPhones since iPhone 6s include pressure-sensing 3D Touch screens.

TUTORIAL: How to turn iPhone keyboard into a trackpad with 3D Touch

Older devices, like iPhone 5s or iPod touch, lack 3D Touch hardware.

I know the argument could be made that Apple should have implemented this very underestimated feature a long time ago in a way that would work on non-3D Touch devices.

Better late than never!

Please keep in mind that the more advanced text-selection features that require dedicated pressure-sensing hardware won’t work on non-3D Touch devices with iOS 12, including:

  • Pressing harder to select a word, sentence or paragraph
  • Toggling between cursor movement and text selection by pressing again deeper

iOS 12’s virtual trackpad mode also works on devices with 3D Touch turned off in Settings.

How to use keyboard trackpad mode on non-3D Touch devices

It couldn’t be simpler, really!

If your device lacks 3D Touch features and is running iOS 12 or newer, you can simply tap and hold the Space bar key to turn the system keyboard into a virtual trackpad.

You must hold down the Space bar key, no other key will do the trick.

Handy keyboard trackpad mode is now available on iPhone and iPod touch devices that lack 3D Touch

But it doesn’t stop there.

If you tap any greyed-out area on the keyboard while holding the Spacebar key, you will enter text selection mode. Now you can drag your finger around to make an arbitrary text selection. Let go of the finger when done, then tap the newly created selection to bring up your formatting options and any hidden actions in bubble menus, like Cut, Copy, Paste, Share and so forth.

While holding the Space bar key, tap anywhere on the keyboard with another finger to begin text selection

On devices that come outfitted with 3D Touch hardware, iOS 12 continues to support the full range of virtual trackpad features that are simply not possible on non-3D Touch devices, such as pressing harder to quickly select a word, sentence or paragraph, or toggling between cursor movement and text selection without lifting your finger off the screen.


The incredibly virtual trackpad first appeared on iOS 9 nearly four years ago following the introduction of iPhone 6s, Apple’s first iPhone to debut 3D Touch.

I use trackpad mode on my iPad all the time. On my iPhone, I’m digging the ability to quickly select a word, sentence or paragraph, or delete large chunks of text faster by pressing deeper.

Are you glad iOS 12 has brought out precise cursor selection on non-3D Touch devices?

Should they also bring iOS’s existing productivity text selection features which currently require deeper presses to devices without 3D Touch features? If so, how should advanced text selection be handled in trackpad mode without 3D Touch hardware, do you think?

Chime in with your thoughts in the comments section.