Buckle Up Apple Advanced Typography Fans, It’s Going To Be A Bumpy Ride

Yes TextKit Does Not Do Real Vertical Text
Yep, TextKit marquee features do not include Vertical Text

One thing has remained constant in Apple’s long strange text layout architecture odyssey from QuickDraw GX to ATSUI to Core Text: with any big change advanced typography is the first casualty. Priorities change, this is natural, but what often happens is a reset back to the basics with advanced typography features restored over time according to new priorities.

Apple Advanced Typography Odyssey Chart
Apple Advanced Typography has had a long strange journey

This is especially true for the higher level text frameworks built on the underlying text architecture as Apple constantly rejiggles priorities of what advanced typography features belong at the high level vs. what stays in the deep dark scary Core Text. Developers stick with what they know instead of adding new text features, so the typography experience of most apps, regardless of platform, remains blah and ‘western centric’.

This is about to get worse as Apple figures out what bits of UIKit (TextKit calling) are going to join macOS and screw hold hands with AppKit.

UIKit and AppKit
When things collide advanced typography is the first casualty, the lowest common denominator wins

Take vertical layout for example. Japan is the last major market that requires it as China, Korea and other Asian countries sold out their rich typography culture and history for western created digital typography technologies that always treated non-western typography as an outliner, never a true equal. Japanese developers had to fight to get basic vertical text support in EPUB v2 and it still sucks getting vertical text EPUB to display or print in WebKit or any web based thing for that matter. Yes, after all this time the World Wide Web is still the Roman Wide Web.

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. Since then Apple has broken typography features into different bits assigning them to different frameworks: bidirectional layout goes up in the high level, real vertical layout remains down there in Core Text.

AppKit has some high level vertical layout features but nobody uses them, Apple included (ahem Pages), because UIKit and WebKit don’t offer the same. One veteran Japanese font engineer explained the challenges: “UIKit doesn’t support real vertical text layout, the Japanese punctuation and glyph spacing is all wrong. The easier thing for an app developer to do is bundle a display only Japanese vertical font just for displaying vertical text in the app. Go ask the programmers at Monokakido, I’m sure that’s what they have to do with their iOS Japanese dictionary apps.” And so it goes.

It’s not just text layout either. How do OpenType Variable Fonts fit into this picture? How will developers deploy them and users interact with them? The crusty old macOS advanced typography font feature palette model is so passé it’s painful to look at, let alone use. So nobody uses it, I doubt they ever did.

The GX advanced typography vision thing, or any vision thing for that matter, would be a welcome guide map. Apple had it once, let’s hope they find it again. Otherwise it will be a bumpy ride. Again.