Almost Useable: Japanese Vertical Text Support in iWork Pages Update

CJK Vertical Text Layout in Pages and Bashō Haiku

Apple released updates for the iWork suite as promised, the biggest new feature is vertical CJK text support which should have been in place since 2005. Better late than never, here is a quick overview.

I’ll discuss vertical features from the Japanese typography point of view since vertical text is more important for Japan and Pages/Keynote/Numbers CJK vertical text is not offered in Simplified Chinese. In an era of devices where everything is horizontal, younger generations have grow up without the deep connection to traditional vertically written culture. Korea, and to a lesser extent the Traditional Chinese markets in Taiwan and Hong Kong, have pretty much abandoned vertical layout for mainstream newspapers, magazines and books which still flourish in the Japanese market.

Also Japan has the most comprehensive vertical text layout composition rules: the Japanese Industrial Standard typesetting and composition specification JIS X4051, the bible of Japanese composition and the only truly complete specification for vertical text composition in the world. I covered Japanese typography basics in another post but it’s important to remember a few essential differences:

Unlike DTP layout, which is graphics-driven, traditional Japanese text composition, called kumihan, is driven by how much text will fit in a given space. Designers know how many characters (virtual bodies) are supposed to be on a line and on a page before they start composition, and this is how they discuss layout with writers and editors. Western composition is calculated from margins, a wholly different concept.

kanji box 3
A virtual body Kanji with approximate baseline overlay red line.

It boils down to the western typography baseline rules and conventions which is what DTP layout and digital fonts were built around vs. Kanji virtual bodies which were never considered by software programmers back in the early 1980s. All written languages outside of the Roman Empire cultural heritage have been living with the limitations of those computer software decisions ever since. Especially in web browsers.

InDesign J gets around this limitation by creating Kanji virtual body information on the fly along with Adobe proprietary internal font metric tables. Everybody else who do not have their own typography and layout engine have to make do with OpenType baseline font metrics information, the advanced typography layout offered by Core Text, and their programming prowess.

The best Japanese word processing program egword universal 2, the first top to bottom Core Text word processor program, is proof that a focused and talented team can accomplish a great deal. egword universal 2 has grids and a well thought out subset of advanced Japanese typography features that satisfy most needs without overwhelming the user. It’s a testament of the the talent of Norihito Hirose and the Monokaki-do team.

egword universal 2 handles Kanji glyph variations with ease

Unfortunately Pages-Keynote-Numbers CJK vertical takes the low road adding as little as possible:

  • No easy access of OpenType/AAT advanced Japanese type features like glyph variations or proportional Kanji spacing, it’s the usual nightmare of hunting for features in the Apple Font Panel or using the input module
  • Importing Word Docs with vertical layout are not preserved and rendered in very bad horizontal layout
  • Last but not least: no ruby or furigana lousy ruby support
egword universal 2 ruby in action, ruby support is an essential feature for any Japanese language document creation

The last feature is so basic for Japanese document creation, it is mind boggling and embarrassing that Apple had the balls to offer CJK support without it in such an amateurish incarnation. The only CJK advanced typography feature offered is the ability to rotate groups of vertical glyphs horizontally, though it is a very amateurish, time consuming, one selection at a time affair.

Other than that, iWork CJK vertical text is almost exactly the same kind of simple implementation that macOS TextEdit has had for years. Short text strings of vertical text are okay for Keynote but the updated Pages is no replacement for Word or egword universal. And of course vertical text support is completely missing on web versions of Pages/Numbers/Keynote. No wonder Apple snuck the feature mention in a iWork update PR release to select media outlets instead of proper announcement.

Taken together with how many years it has taken Apple to get this simple low level of CJK vertical layout support into their word processor app, it is sad commentary on Apple’s advanced typography priorities in the post Steve Jobs era. It’s clear that Apple doesn’t care about advanced typography, they only say that they do.

UDATE
Ruby characters are available via context menu and have been for some time. Apple’s implementation is pretty bad and rotating vertical glyphs via context menu pop-up is very manual and not very good either.



UPDATE 2
I tried writing a Haiku using Pages vertical text support.

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