Updated typographical APIs in iOS 7 may herald new age of digital letterpress

Updated typographical APIs in iOS 7 may herald new age of digital letterpress

Summary: Among the new APIs coming in iOS 7 will be a number of typographic sizing and styling features that some say will offer 'astonishing possibilities' in design and readability on Apple's mobile platforms.

TOPICS: iOS, Apple, Google, iPhone, iPad

A recent post in a German blog on forthcoming typographical changes in iOS 7 was recently translated into English. It outlines new capabilities that will bring a higher quality of typography to the OS and let developers present text in new ways.

The post by Jürgen Siebert, chief marketing officer of FontShop Germany, was posted in June, shortly after the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in San Francisco, and arrived in English on Typographica.org this month.

Siebert said the "hottest typographic number" in iOS 7 will be Dynamic Type, which will let users adjust text size settings in each app. If the sizes aren't big enough, then the Accessibility settings will let users improve contrast for text by automatically placing the text over a lighter background.

As far as I know, Apple's mobile products will be the first electronic devices that will by default consider a quality of type that hasn't been given so much attention since the age of letterpress. That's right: We're talking about an operating system, not an application or a layout job.

The new APIs are called Text Kit, and will use the Core Text API, introduced in Mac OS X v10.5 Leopard. Siebert said the new APIs will give developers control on how text is handled in interface elements. Font descriptors will provide text kerning and ligatures. However, all existing apps will need to be rewritten to support the new capabilities.

However, there's been a lot of hubbub in developer circles about the current iOS 7 beta's use of Helvetica Neue and especially in its Light and Ultra Light flavors. Khoi Vinh, CEO of Lascaux, wrote in his blog that "iOS 7 looks like a makeup counter at Macy's".

Vinh said that Helvetica is a common design shortcut when companies seek to add legitimacy to their design lexicon. He called it an "extremely efficient vessel for pre-packaged ideas" and that the thin and ultra-thin weights of Helvetica Neue can "signal aspirational sophistication". According to Vinh, both Apple and Google have used Helvetica Neue for this purpose.

To be fair, these uses of Helvetica Neue's thin and ultra-light weights are not necessarily indictments of the design strategies that Apple and Google are pursuing. Google's iOS apps have been exemplars of thoughtful design for mobile devices, and their typography approach has been a cosmetic misfire, at worst.

As for iOS 7, it's still too early to fully pass judgment on its major design shift towards the minimal. Only hands-on usage will reveal whether their use of Helvetica Neue is indicative of deeper-rooted problems with the revamped operating system, or just a surface blemish. There's a lot to mull over and about in this release, but then, with Apple there always is.

Check out the full posts, they are filled with typographical goodness.

Topics: iOS, Apple, Google, iPhone, iPad

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  • The 1980s Are Over

    Remember the early days of "desktop publishing", and the spread of the notorious "ransom note" school of typography?

    We really don't want to see those days again...
    • Not Like The Old Days

      Programmers actually hire actual designers nowadays to design their websites and applications. It's not like the old days where programmers did all the design themselves. I think we can handle the customization that we now have with Typography.
  • Thank you Apple!

    You always have been on the forefront of technology with fonts. Without you we still would be using the Terminal font.
  • Does anyone believe

    "astonishing possibilities"

    Is there anyone even at apple that think this will be realised. It belittles everything else they're doing with serious enhancements in technology.
    Little Old Man
    • Why shouldn't it be possible?

      Apple has revolutionized type twice before (scalable type, and then TrueType fonts.)
  • 'Helvetica Neue can "signal aspirational sophistication"'

    Sounds like garbage to me, somewhat akin to graphology in handwriting.
    • While there is real truth in the idea that

      fonts can set and communicate mood in your writing, a lot of these typographers really go overboard and babble on like your typical moronic art critic.
  • Or you can use Android or WP8, where there was never any limitations

    This is the crowd that clapped when iOS first had "multitasking" except the tasks didn't actually run in parallel.

    Heck, in WP8, you don't even need the app if its just informational. The Live Tile can pretty much tell you everything you need to know.
    A Gray
    • Wow!

      Do you even know what the topic is about?
    • So Random

      You literally are just saying random things. Something similar to Text Kit does not exist on any other platforms and it probably never will just because the other platforms don't care about typography as much as Apple.
  • Branding

    The most important part of this is that apps will be able to brand themselves better. Typography is a powerful thing and a unique set of fonts and font customizations can make for a beautiful application.
    • Re: apps will be able to brand themselves better

      Because IOS doesn't allow apps to use their own fonts?
  • "typographical goodness"

    Oh I like typographical goodness (though that's a quaint way of putting it). Thanks, David.
    Laraine Anne Barker