Apple Advanced Typography

FontWorks Gaiji Master application used stroke font technology made possible by the QuickDraw GX framework

John Gruber and other writers have noticed that Safari does not support recent high end typography web developments:

It’s disappointing how poorly Safari fares here. Mac OS X has had wonderful built-in typographic features for over a decade — Apple led the industry. But now, on the web, Apple trails the industry.

The arrival of any new platform always means a reset for high end typography. Everything except the most essential features are striped out and reset from scratch, usually at a slow pace because advanced typography is not a priority. And when they do reappear, advanced typography features end up in low level frameworks that require a lot of knowledge and work for developers to use. Most of them don’t bother.

Advanced typography only matters for developers when it moves up to high level frameworks and the OS ‘just takes care of it’. A look at Apple’s advanced typography story illustrates this point.

  1. 1998~1999 Apple ditched QuickDraw GX in the transition from Classic Mac OS to OS X.
  2. 1999~2003 Apple ported essential GX typography features missing from NextStep with the Carbon ATSUI framework.
  3. 2004~ 2011 Apple transitioned from the Carbon ATSUI to Cocoa Core Text for the 64 bit/Cocoa/iOS framework transition.
  4. June 2010: CoreText arrives the iOS platform with iOS 4.
  5. September 2013: TextKit arrives in UIKit to simplify adding a subset of advanced typography features.

For the record Apple developer documentation says

TextKit is a set of classes and protocols in the UIKit framework providing high-quality typographical services that enable apps to store, lay out, and display text with all the characteristics of fine typesetting…

Developers love the ease of TextKit but developers who want to do anything outside of the western typography conventions, such vertical text layout, are out of luck. The only option is to put on some man pants and burrow down to the low level CoreText where there’s a lot more coding to do.

Looking back, everybody except Asian developers missed the whole point of QuickDraw GX. It was not Apple vs. Adobe, or GX vs PostScript, it was not even about technology. It was all about moving scattered low level advanced typography features into a unified framework then taking it up as high as it could go in the OS to make it a standard, across the board system feature for all apps, developers and users.

With iOS driving Apple’s OS strategy, Apple is only going to deploy features they can deliver on iOS and OS X more or less simultaneously. That’s why Apple dumped OpenType feature support, and a lot more, with the iWorks reboot. It’s the same story for Safari/WebKit advanced typography support.

In the end it comes down to how important is it to Apple to put effort into moving high end but low level advanced typography features higher up in the frameworks, as high as they can go.

In the iOS age that goal is not a priority for Apple, it has not been so for some time.