JCB announced J/Speedy Apple Pay service for Taiwan today. This means any Taiwanese customers with JCB cards can add them to Apple Pay. More importantly this means all those Japanese tourists that Taiwan has been advertising to can now spend money with Apple Pay JCB cards in Taiwan. In short iOS 11 NFC switching for FeliCa QUICPay at home and EMV J/Speedy in Taiwan.
OpenType Variable Font support in focused on browsers and Adobe apps
CSS is the main focus of variable font support
Typo Labs 2018 had some interesting updates on OpenType Variable Fonts (OTVF), where they are now and roadmap directions to the future. The most interesting presentation by far was Jason Pamental’s Variable Fonts and the Future of Typography. One benefit of using variable fonts in our era of multiple digital devices is that maximum readability for any given content can be optimized across devices with optical sizing which doesn’t sound very sexy but pays big dividends.
Apple leverages this with the variable font capability in their San Francisco system font. It’s the thing that makes Dynamic Type dynamic and has existed on macOS since the QuickDraw GX era, Apple’s TrueType GX provided the technology base for OTVF. Pamental stresses that there are many more important benefits to variable fonts than just optical sizing and the future of digital typography needs to incorporate them. I strongly agree with this view but I also see problems.
The initial focus for OpenType variable fonts has been CSS web development and optical sizing support is in already in Safari and Chrome with Firefox and Edge joining any day. You can see and play with variable font examples on Axis-Praxis (ignore Arphic’s hideous AR UDJingXiHei font, it’s some Chinese designer’s idea of a Japanese font). So far, so good.
The real problem is going to be the same problem we had before with OpenType: advanced typography feature fragmentation. I interviewed one of the top Japanese font engineers back in late 2003, Tomihisa Uchida of Iwata Corporation and he explained the problem. At that time Adobe was pushing the Japan market away from the expensive Japanese Postscript printer font model to the dynamic font download model of OpenType Japanese fonts with PDF and InDesign J. What Uchida san said in 2003 is still true today:
I work with newspaper fonts and layout. Newspaper font designs are different because the text is always vertical. Fonts need good layout to look their best.(Japanese) OpenType has fractions, third-width and quarter width glyphs, but most applications are not OpenType-feature aware so it’s a real waste. The result is pretty ugly.
Right now, the only OpenType (Japanese) layout engine out there is InDesign (J)…(this) means you have to use InDesign to access OpenType advanced typography…no matter what kind of fancy fonts you have, they look bad with poor typography.
Advanced Typography Feature Fragmentation in Action
You can see and test this problem for yourself on macOS with the recently revived egword Universal 2 Japanese word processor app and Pages. Hiragino Japanese OpenType fonts bundled with macOS are chockfull of advanced typography features (both AAT and OpenType tables) mentioned by Uchida san and much more: glyph variations, vertical substitutions, extended character sets, etc. The full set is listed in the crusty old macOS Fonts >Typography palette.
Hiragino has many advanced typography features but they don’t work across apps or platforms. Some listed features such as glyph variants are completely broken. Pages accepts some of the Hiragino advanced features but does not offer vertical text layout, a basic Japanese typography requirement because the Pages team only implements the lowest common denominator typography features that work across WebKit, macOS and iOS.
egword Universal 2 has excellent Japanese vertical and horizontal text layout but ignores Typography palette advanced fonts options in favor of its own app palette which only offers a sub-set of Hiragino font features.
The only place to use the whole Hiragino feature shebang is a trip to InDesign Creative Suite J. What’s the matter with you, don’t you have one?
egword Universal 2 ignores the Hiragino font features in macOS Typography palette but deploys a limited subset in its own palette
Pages accepts some Hiragino options offered in macOS Typography palette but glyph variants are broken in macOS Mojave
Variable Fonts and What’s Missing
Where do OpenType variable fonts fit in this scenario? What and how are features offered and how does an app present them to the poor user who might want to use them?
The answer is something I have been trying to write about from my very first blog post and revisited last week. 3 years in I think I finally understand it: it’s the QuickDraw GX vision thing. It is not the API or any of the GX technology that westerners got hung up on and missed the big picture. I wrote:
QuickDraw GX, the vision part not the API, was the only major text layout architecture in a major OS I know of that treated all typography from anywhere as one single thing available to all applications. The Steve Jobsian ‘it just works’ for the entire world’s advanced typography.
The critical difference was the GX vision of the world’s advanced typography and layout as one unified common fundamental thing that just works and is available everywhere seamlessly across the OS and all apps. Apple is still the only company in the world that makes its own software and hardware across personal computer and mobile platforms. All this advanced typography stuff doesn’t work unless it is one unified thing so it comes down to 2 points.
If Apple can’t come up with an advanced typography vision again, OpenType variable fonts will suffer the same advanced typography feature fragmentation fate that OpenType advanced typography has suffered from all along: it will live in the Adobe app ghetto along with the designers who live and work there. It will be ignored by most of the developer community because they can’t figure it out on their own when different advanced typography features are fragmented and scattered across OS platforms and frameworks (UIKit, AppKit, Core Text, WebKit).
When that happens typography sinks to the lowest common denominator feature set but users will never know the difference, or have the opportunity to find out. The end result is that after all this time, 22 years later, fancy fonts still look bad with the poor typography we end up getting. That’s sad.
If Apple can’t give us advanced typography and layout for the rest of us, nobody can.
It’s going to be a long dry summer. Maybe it’s the lack of any new hardware but one week after WWDC18 wrapped up the Apple tech blogger crowd are already bored. Witness: as of June 14, 2018 it is 182 days since iMac Pro was last updated. Only 182 days since it was reported that Apple finally broke the hardware update jinx and here we are again. The rest of the Mac dog day lineup is here.
I have another measurement suggestion: 10,950 days. How many Mac hardware hand wringers are over that mark and how many under? It would be fun to know, I suspect the majority are over. My MacBook Pro 13″ 2016 model isn’t even close to feeling like a cool step up the hardware ladder that my MacBook Air 13″ 2011 was but it doesn’t matter much.
I use my iPad Pro 10.5″ more and more. A recent screen drop incident left me without it for a week and I realized it had become my go-to device. Going back to the laptop for everything was not fun. I’m glad it’s there but 3 years from now I think Mac hardware will matter less than ever for ever more people.
This may not be a popular opinion but until Apple dumps the Intel architecture I don’t see the Macintosh platform moving forward much.
Inbound travelers have different needs however and traveling offline most of the time isn’t an option if you need GPS, online maps with transit routing or want to find a great place for lunch on the run. The danger of iPhone running out of battery mid transit is a possibility when your attention is distracted while out and about living plug to plug. Run out of juice in the middle of a Apple Pay Suica transit and you will end up paying full fare in cash at the exit transit gate. Some blogs say that you can pay with a backup plastic Suica but the official JR East position is strictly cash only.
If you are doing it all on iPhone while visiting Japan a good battery case/bank is highly recommend. There are other strategies too, they all basically boil down to dividing trip duties between 2 devices.
Apple Watch: if you have Apple Watch Series 3 you can transfer your Suica card from iPhone to Apple Watch with the Watch app. Offloading Suica to Apple Watch allows you to keep Apple Watch in Airplane Mode for Suica transit and use iPhone online for maps and transit without dead battery worries. The only time Apple Pay Suica needs a network connection is when recharging Suica with an Apple Pay credit card.
iPad: if you have a cellular model iPad buy a data travel SIM in Japan and use iPad as your main GPS map and transit tool on the road. If you have a Apple SIM iPad you can also buy a data plan on the go. It might not be the cheapest option but Apple SIM is convenient.
Any Android device will also make a good offload roaming device freeing up iPhone for Apple Pay Suica use while maximizing battery life. And remember if you do run into the 10% battery life warning mid transit, don’t panic. Simply turn the Apple Pay Suica device off, and turn it back on when you reach your destination transit gate.
Recharge options for Express Transit China card are more limited than Suica
Union Pay and QR Code WeChat Pay are recharge options
Japanese tech journalist Satoru Nakayama posted his experience of riding the Shanghai subway with an Apple Pay Express Transit China card loaded on his iPhone. Using Apple Pay Express Transit in Shanghai is similar to Apple Pay Suica but there are interesting differences:
Apple Pay recharge for China Express Transit is limited to Union Pay credit cards
Recharge kiosks are available but limited to Union Pay and QR Code options. No cash recharge
China Express Transit can only be used for transit, you cannot purchase things like Suica
And yes, Nakayama san confirms that QR Codes are a pain in the butt for recharge as well as a transit gate entry option but we already knew that. Another interesting observation is that Express Transit China cards feel slower at the transit gate than Suica. This is not surprising.
FeliCa based Suica cards and Japanese transit gates have been fine tuned for a 200ms (millisecond) processing time but are usually faster. NFC-F response time is about 50ms and most onsite transaction times for Suica in Japan and Octopus cards in Hong Kong clock in about 100ms. My guess is that China Transit cards are closer to the usual MIFARE transaction speed of 500ms.
The tech side story of China Express Transit cards is an interesting one. The plastic smartcards started out on MIFARE technology but the current China T-Union card is an evolution of the Chinese PBOC 2.0ED/EP spec defined in the JT/T 978 standards. Conceptually it is close to a EMV-like stored value card for offline processing. It’s not clear what flavor Apple Pay is using, it does not appear to be the full China T-Union spec but could be something like an Apple flavored PBOC 2.0ED/EP implementation. This could be a reason why Apple Pay Express Transit in China is still beta.