The iPhone, the iPad, and fonts

Much has been said of the newly announced iPad from Apple. And of course the iPhone continues to grow in popularity. Both of these devices are groundbreaking in many ways, but in particular they offer something unique among their peers – an incredible interface. If you think about it, the technology used in these devices is not that new. You can find many, if not all, of the same features available in other devices on the market today.

So why the excitement? What makes Apple’s stuff so cool? I want to suggest that it’s in large part due to the touch interface – the smooth transitions, the fluid responses, the intuitive use of simple hand gestures create a powerful user experience. It’s obvious, and it’s seductive. Of course a powerful interface is only part of the “ease of use” formula, albeit an important part. To their credit Apple has spent a great deal of time and energy creating a look and feel that engages people. From translucent windows and animated transitions all the way down to the typography – the detail is impressive. Which brings us to a particular area of interest – fonts.

The fonts on these devices are…well, what can we say? adequate?

I say adequate because I think they could be better. No surprise there since that’s our passion at FontGear, but a few things could be better. Let’s consider fonts on the iPhone.

1. Font options

The fact of the matter is that Apple has locked down font control on the iPhone. For instance when composing an e-mail there are no message formatting options available. Even in the Mail settings there is only a single font size option that applies to all e-mails. This is a problem across the iPhone operating system.

2. Font management

In reality, the iPhone comes loaded with a decent collection of fonts. But, alas, these fonts are used primarily to render web pages in the iPhone version of the Safari web browser. Wouldn’t it be great if we had a font manager application that would allow access (and use) of these already installed fonts? It’s as though Apple just doesn’t trust us. 😉

3. Font installation

Finally, with better font management it would be great if we could install our own fonts on the iPhone. Perhaps the technical limitations (e.g. not enough memory, font rendering speeds, etc.) are prohibitive – but I suspect it has more to do with Apple’s interest in keeping the interface standard in tact. And while I can appreciate that, perhaps they go to far.

And for the new iPad? Unfortunately the type handling appears to have a long way to go (e.g. no serious text handling tools, poor automatic justification and hyphenation, etc.) – but – we do see glympses of font options that are encouraging.

Here’s a screen shot of the iPad showing a font menu:

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  1. #1 by Matt on February 20, 2010 - 1:36 am

    “it’s as though apple doesn’t trust us”

    I don’t trust us either! When most people are given more control than they need over interface details (especially typography), things get ugly very quickly! Apple usually get their typography pretty right so perhaps it’s a good thing they choose for people? I for one don’t think the iPhone interface would benefit from comic sans..

    • #2 by fontgear on February 20, 2010 - 2:32 am

      Thanks for the comment. Yes, I agree that things get ugly very quickly. Perhaps incremental allowance of more font control is the answer? I just think that a total font lock-down is a little draconian, especially when your customers are primarily creative thinkers. Again, thanks for the feedback.

  2. #3 by Karel santral on March 12, 2010 - 7:01 am

    Good. Thanks for sharing…

  3. #4 by Zack on March 24, 2010 - 8:51 pm

    Nice article. I agree that typography has had a long way to go on the iPhone OS, when compared to OS X. In fairness, I think Apple made a very prudent to not include much functionality in what, up until now, software aimed at phones. That said, the iPad (iPhone OS 3.2) is FAR more advanced in the typography department. Unfortunately, the NDA prevents me from saying too much more, but needless to say you will have to revisit this article. You will be pleased.

    On a small factual note, the iPhone OS font listing that you link to is no longer accurate. I provide a listing of all typefaces available on iPhone OS 3.1.3 in an article on my dev blog: http://wp.me/pzfL0-2V .

    • #5 by fontgear on March 24, 2010 - 9:31 pm

      Thanks for your observations. Can’t wait to be impressed with the iPad. We’ll see.

  4. #6 by Laurens on August 17, 2010 - 1:34 am

    An overview of font handling on the iPad and a list of available typefaces can be found at http://www.prepressure.com/fonts/basics/ios-4-fonts

    I do wonder how easy it is to install fonts on a jailbroken iPhone or iPad. Once you have full access to the filesystem, adding fonts should be as easy as adding them on a Mac.

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