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

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.
Written by David Morgenstern, Contributor

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.

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