TYPO Talks: OpenType Variable Font State of the Union

The 2017 OpenType Variable Font State of the Union Postcard Summary

OpenType Variable Fonts (OTVF) were the hot topic of the annual TYPO conference held earlier this month. If you have any interest in OTVF watch Dan Rhatigan’s progress report. Dan is the new Senior Manager of Adobe Type and had the whole OTVF thing land on his head when joining Adobe less than a year ago.

Given the short notice I think he does a great job of explaining where things are:

  • The OpenType Variation Font spec is already OpenType 1.8.1 and about to be upped again. I think there will be many more revisions before real products ship.
  • I get the sense there are more issues to be fixed on the CFF2 (Compact Font Format 2) OpenType PostScript side rather than the TrueType side, and this applies to both file format and rasterizers. This makes sense as TrueType GX has around since 1993 and never went away despite being completely ignored, even by Apple. Say what you will but TrueType GX is a mature technology, that’s why it lives on in OTVF.
  • Auto-hinting on the CFF2 OpenType PostScript side has to be completely rebuilt to work. No surprise here either and I’ll bet this cannot be delivered by Adobe this year. If simple Roman glyph overalpping outlines are challenging, wait until font teams really start optimizing CJK font data.
  • Dan says there has to be a better UI than the old variation font slider. I agree. QuickDraw GX developers passionatly discussed this back in 1995: Apple had created a wonderful advanced typography feature set with no idea how it should look and work for users. Coming up with a great UI is crucial for selling OTVF outside of the font developer niche it now occupies.

You might think Apple has it easy because they created TrueType GX and seem to be already using parts of it for system font instances. The Hiragino Japanese system font however is not easy: it is a composite of OpenType TrueType San Francisco and OpenType PostScript Hiragino with the New Osaka kana glyphs somewhere in-between.

Optimizing anything OpenType PostScript CFF2 means waiting until the Adobe core font team has finished their work. That will not happen this year.

If you were holding your breath for Apple to announce OpenType Variation Font support at WWDC this year, you can start breathing again.


Apple Pay Suica and Green Car Upgrades

Green Seat and Suica Apple Pay

green seat suica
The green red LED indicates a vacant Green Car seat all ready for your Suica touch,

One of the cool Apple Pay Suica features shown in the Apple Pay Japan marketing blitz is Green Car “touch and sit” seating. In the JR East ad Ryuhei Matsuda holds his Suica Apple Pay iPhone 7 up to the Suica touch area of the Green Car and boom, he is all done.

It looks like magic but the actual purchase takes place in Suica App, which is slightly less cool: input your start and end station points, hit the Apple Pay purchase button and you are good to go. The purchase is good for all day between your purchased station points. Get on a regular train, find an empty Green Car seat red LED spot and touch your iPhone 7/Apple Watch Series 2 device just like Ryuhei Matsuda.

suica app green seat.png
The actual Green Car Suica purchase is little more involved than the ad and takes place in Suica app. Why is an unoccupied seat red and an occupied seat green? Only JR East knows.

All things considered, it’s still cool. Now if I only had a generous travel expense account, I would be all set for JR East train travel bliss.

See All About Suica App for more information about Green Seat Upgrades for Apple Pay Suica

An Inconvenient Apple Pay Truth

Last week’s Wall Street Journal piece on stalled Apple Pay uptake in the US market is still playing out in the press. Karen Webster’s take on her PYMENTS.COM site is that Apple Pay was all hype. There is a lot of hype, and click bait, in Webster’s piece too. There’s also an all-you-need-to-know bit at the end: statistics were originally presented on March 15th at Innovation Project 2017 by Karen Webster, CEO at PYMNTS.com.

The core bit is her analysis of US payments market data, with a lot of guess-work, and a sexy conclusion that sells the piece:

Here are a few assumptions that we’ve made:

  • We know that stores Apple reports as accepting Apple Pay have $420 billion in annual sales. We come to that number by acknowledging that $392 billion is derived from the stores who are part of the Top 100 retailers — the rest is an assumption based on remaining spend at other smaller merchants.
  • We assume that people using the Apple Pay app in those stores spend, on average, what other consumers spend.
  • Using that $420 billion, we start doing the math:
  1. 1 percent of people have iPhones, and 74.1 percent of those have iPhones that work with Apple Pay, which means that 32.7 percent of people have the right kind of iPhone with the right handsets. Multiply that by $420 billion in sales and that equals $137B of potential sales by Apple Pay users.
  2. We know from our data that Apple Pay is used in 4.03 percent of all eligible transactions. That means that Apple Pay is driving $5.5 billion in transaction volume, exclusive of motor vehicles and gas stations. That’s about .10 percent share of retail spend.

We can push the assumptions around here and there, but no matter how you cut the data, using any number of assumptions — and based on a data set that reflects 2.5 years of consistently surveyed consumers about their Apple Pay usage — Apple Pay’s share of retail spend appears to be really small.

Skip to the wrap up:

The inconvenient Apple Pay truth is that if Apple is really playing the long game, they might have to be willing to pay for it. And, while they’re at it, give merchants some incentive to push it.

Let the next three years of Apple Pay payments begin — without the hype this time.

Hype aside, Tim Cook has admitted that Apple Pay growth in the US “has hit an air pocket,” but for all the negativity in the press right now I agree with Horace Dediu’s take: this is a long, complex and messy transition without easy wins, or sexy press headlines.

Horace Dediu on Apple Pay

 has a great take on recent Apple Pay developments around the world. My favorite bit is the first two paragraphs:

In September 2016 Apple Pay came to support the world’s largest public transit system. It happened through the integration with Japan’s FeliCa and gave Apple Pay access to 160 million daily transactions.

This, along with many other milestones don’t get a lot of attention. Apple Pay is in what could be considered an attritional competition with non-consumption. There are no decisive battles won or lost, only the relentless pressure to make progress against a reluctance to change.

I don’t know why but all the recent Apple Pay news coverage wraps everything in war metaphors. Witness the recent Australia bank ‘battle’ titled “Apple Pay may have won the battle but it may not win the war.

As Horace points out payments infrastructure is extremely complicated and messy with many moving pieces: banks, credit card companies, merchants, point of sale terminal technology, smartphone platforms and last but not least, the customer. So many choices.

Decisive battles make thrilling headlines but the reality of the payments ‘battle’ will be a long and dull slog.