Apple text layout architecture evolution: TextKit reboot

No matter what kind of fancy fonts you have, they look bad with poor typography.

Tomihisa Uchida, former lead font engineer of Shaken, FontWorks, Iwata

As I wrap my typography related writing, it’s fitting to post about Apple’s text layout architecture evolution one last time. There have been a few changes over the decades. Actually it has been nothing but changes, going forward, pulling back, going forward again in bits and pieces instead of one united comprehensive vision.

Part of my current job includes dealing with lots of vertical text Japanese documents with lots of traditional Kanji characters that juggle different Japanese encoding standards depending on when the documents were created. For that reason I’m keen on robust vertical text layout and easy to access, easy to use high end Japanese font typography features. InDesign is there but its high end page layout features are overkill and time consuming when a good word processor will do.

Unfortunately there are very few choices outside of the Creative Suite world. Japanese high end features in Word are clunky and confusingly scattered around the UI, Pages vertical text and advanced font feature UI is a joke. The best Japanese word processor on macOS is egword Universal 2, egword has a long history and has used every single macOS text engine at some point. It’s a miracle that it survived. Why it is so hard to get international savvy, insanely great typography and layout features that should be standard and universal?

QuickDraw GX is the start point for built-in high end typography on personal computers. Thought it was short-lived, GX parts and concepts live on in Apple OS platforms to this day such as the SF variable system fonts. It’s hard to explain how revolutionary GX was in the Asian markets and how much exciting development was going on at that time, utterly impossible to comprehend from the western biased wikipedia entry. Suffice to say GX was the first text layout architecture were all writing systems, languages, various font technologies, scripts and layout models were equally and very well supported, right to left, vertical, contextual and so on.

After Copland OS was cancelled in August 1996, GX text technology morphed into Apple Type Services for Unicode Imaging aka ATSUI. ATSUI along with Apple Advanced Typography (AAT) font tables were some of the technology that made the Hiragino Apple Publishing Glyph Set feature, aka Hiragino Shock, possible in OS X 10.1. The better performing Cocoa based 64-bit Core Text replaced 32-bit Carbon ATSUI in OS X Leopard. macOS Lion AppKit finally gained some vertical text support but it wasn’t very robust as was demonstrated later when TextKit functions migrated to UIKit in iOS 7. The lead font engineer of Iwata Corporation had this to say:

UIKit (TextKit) doesn’t support real vertical text layout, the Japanese punctuation and glyph spacing are all wrong. The easiest 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 for their iOS Japanese dictionary apps.

‘Real’ vertical text layout remains a low level Core Text coding exercise which Apple really doesn’t encourage unless, “you must do text layout and font handling at a low level, such as developers of layout engines. You should develop your app using a higher-level framework if possible.” In other words, use TextKit.

I suspect one reason for Apple’s recommendation to use TextKit instead of Core Text whenever possible, is the parade of Core Text rendering bugs and security leaks that started cropping up in 2013 and continue to trickle. Therefore high level TextKit in iOS UIKit and macOS AppKit is the preferred text layout method as it abstracts away Core Text grunt work and exposing potential Core Text rendering and security bugs.

There’s a trade off however: TextKit is 30 years old, far older than Core Text, older than GX even, and shows its age. It’s the last NextStep holdout that never got an upgrade, its text layout features and performance are good enough, but not very good. Apple recognizes this and is finally doing something about it: TextKit 2, Apple’s next-generation text engine.

The best place to start for all things TextKit 2 is the WWDC21 video: Meet TextKit 2. The big new takeaway points are:

Non-linear viewport-based layout: TextKit 2 only lays out the appropriate text area that needs to be displayed • edited unlike linear layout which does the whole text document sequentially. You are probably familiar when scrolling long text documents and it takes forever for the text to render down to your current location, like standing on the beach waiting for the last tip of a wave to creep up and reach your feet. That wait is gone in TextKit 2.

TextKit 2 does this using viewport-based layout and rendering. When I saw the WWDC video my first reaction was ‘this reminds me of that shitty new WordPress block editor.’ Other developers had the same reaction. The thing is, once you get used to the shitty WordPress block editor, you don’t want to go back. It’s way more convenient even if the performance isn’t great.

The new TextKit 2 block editor approach promises to deliver convenience and high performance along with, “a robust set of customization points, making it simple to extend the layout system and add your own behaviors” that “also lends itself well to mixing non-text elements into your text layout.” Great, just what I wanted, more emoji + text + whatever-you-want-to-insert-here mishmash.

Glyph Abstraction: aka correct rendering for complex scripts because Apple does the grunt work (in Core Text) so you don’t have to. It removes the drudge. On a practical level text selection will work correctly no matter the script or language. With UIKit•TextKit 1, text selection is never reliable even for Japanese.

Safety aka more abstraction: there’s a huge middle section that discusses the bulk of the new TextKit 2 calls and how they work, the goal being using layout ‘elements’ instead of glyphs, strings, paragraphs, etc. Like glyph abstraction, it’s another kind of abstraction and illustrates the TextKit 2 mantra of using higher level objects to control layout. Eliminating the many TextKit 1 layout details developers have to juggle is a good thing.

Inclusive layout yes, but is it high quality layout?
TextKit 2 is the start of a long term migration. When it is done I think we’ll just have TextKit 2 that is simply called TextKit. For now, most of TextKit 2 is ‘opt in’ for compatibility. macOS 12 has all TextKit 2 functions, on the iOS side, UITextField (single-line editable text) has been updated to use TextKit 2 but UITextView (multiline text) has not.

The migration is going to take a while. I don’t think we’ll get the full TextKit 2 story until WWDC22. Once the transition is complete I suspect Core Text 2 is next. We’ll see. Japanese developer reactions have been muted along the lines of, “Apple wants to be inclusive, which is nice, but it doesn’t look like a high end solution.” After all, Japanese developers have been down this road many times before.

And so we circle back to my original question, does TextKit 2 finally deliver international savvy, insanely great typography and layout as standard universal features all developers can implement easily in apps? Definitely maybe…for apps, but never for the web. That’s a whole other story.

Obon Okuribi 2021

It’s a shame that the famous Kyoto Okuri-bi send off bonfires will be limited again this year. It’s an outside event and I don’t see the point of caution. Hopefully the souls of family ancestors will still be able to find their way home and back again in these dark times. A friend of mine, Rev. Sensho Komukai wrote a nice article that describes the event and the Buddhist tradition behind it. Hopefully the bonfires will burn in full glory in 2022.


August 13-16 is the traditional Obon period, when the souls of deceased family members are believed to return home from the other world. A fire is burned as a guide sign to welcome our ancestors on the evening of the 13th (mukae-bi) and to send off the spirits on the 16th (okuri-bi).

Great okuribi bonfires are seen on five mountains in Kyoto on the evening of August 16th. Each bonfire has a different character as follows: Dai (大), Myo (妙), Ho (法) a boat shape, and a shrine gate shape. At 8:00 p.m. the character of Dai is lit first. Myo and Ho are then lit ten minutes later.

Myo and Ho bonfires have been prepared for centuries by the Nichiren Shu supporters of Yusenji Temple and Myoenji Temple of the Matsugasaki district in North Kyoto. Myo has 103 burning woodpiles, and Ho has 63. Each woodpile has been traditionally allotted to a family member of the two temples.

One woman who came to Matsugasaki after marriage said with a sigh,

“It is still hot in August. When the bonfires are lit, there is no refuge area from the heat. I was all sweaty, dying of thirst. I helped the bonfire event out of a sense of obligation. Once we finished, I went down the mountain with a sense of great relief. However, when I arrived home, my grandmother-in-law had brought a family ihai tablet out into the garden and was holding her palms together in Gassho toward the bonfires on the mountain, I felt ashamed of myself. People in Matsugasaki respectfully send off their ancestors with all their heart. Their religion and culture have been handed down with high esteem. It was my mistake to think so little of the bonfire event.”

After the bonfires of Myo and Ho burn out in 30 minutes, the Bon dance starts in the precincts of Yusenji Temple. The dance originated in 1307, when a Tendai priest, Jitsugen, who was very impressed by Nichizo, converted his faith to the Lotus Sutra and Nichiren Shu teaching.

All village people of Matsugasaki became devotees of Nichizo and Nichiren Shu. Priest Jitsugen felt joy chanting the Odaimoku while beating the drum. The villagers began to dance, and this “Daimoku dance” became the origin of the Bon festival dance. In modern times, people dance with simple beating of the drum and quiet chanting rather than a joyful dance. They want to think back deeply to the days they spent with their beloved families and silently express gratitude toward their ancestors on the Obon send-off day.

Daimoku Dance

Inside Hiragino: Hiragino Shock and Apple Publishing Glyph Set

The Hiragino fonts in OS X

The transition to macOS X was a very interesting time for the Japanese publishing industry. In his first official appearance in Japan after returning to Apple, Steve Jobs turned the publishing industry on its head when he announced at MacWorld Tokyo 2000 that Apple would bundle professional Japanese fonts licensed from Dainippon Screen with extended character sets: “Capturing the beauty and richness of the Japanese language and kanji characters has always been beyond the capabilities of personal computers. Now, with premium quality fonts and the largest character sets ever, Mac OS X will make high-quality publishing a reality in Japan for all customers—professionals and first-time users alike.” At the time I wrote a report for MacInTouch:

Steve Jobs made a very big deal about kanji fonts and making MacOS X “the best kanji operating system” by licensing 6 ‘Hiragino’ font designs from DaiNippon Screen. It played well in yesterday’s keynote and the demonstrations today. And it is exciting that Apple is addressing some basic problems of Japanese publishing. Apple said these new ‘X’ fonts will use the new Adobe Japan 1-4 and JIS encoding standards unveiled at the last Tokyo Seybold Seminars 1999.

The official unveiling of bundled Hiragino (also used as the OS X Japanese system font, still in use today) was the February 2001 MacWorld Tokyo keynote just one month before OS X shipped. Steve:

As you may know, there have never been good Japanese fonts shipped in a personal computer operating system. If you want want to get over 8,400 characters and if you want to get very beautiful fonts you have to pay a fortune to go license these fonts on a per computer basis.

What we have done is we have licensed the most beautiful Japanese fonts around and we are bundling them in every copy of MacOS X. 17,500 characters…characters that just don’t exist in normal computer font sets. Characters that you cannot get on a personal computer without paying a lot of money. All bundled into MacOS X. I don’t think we’ve seen anything like this before.

MacWorld Tokyo 2001 keynote

Indeed the market had never seen anything like it and coined a new word: ‘Hiragino Shock’.

The Japanese font problem
To understand Hiragino Shock, it’s important to understand what was happening in the Japanese print market. It was a strange post bubble time when the migration path to the newly announced OS X and ATSUI Carbon framework was not all that clear. Just before OS X launched I wrote about the situation for The Seybold Report.

Japanese DTP arrived with Apple’s NTX-J PostScript printer and Linotype’s first Japanese PostScript imagesetter in 1989. They came at the right time: The early ’90s economy was bubbling, companies had money to burn and Japanese DTP took off. It was a young, booming market and it forgave many mistakes that would haunt the industry later.

By 1996, the go-go days were gone and they would not come back…DTP tools (Quark Xpress, Illustrator, Photoshop and, to a smaller extent, PageMaker) had captured nearly 40 percent of the production process. For a conservative industry like Japanese publishing, this was phenomenal―until compared to the West. There, in the same amount of time, practically the entire industry converted to DTP production. Japan is still about 40 percent and holding.

The Second Wave of Japanese Desktop Publishing, The Seybold Report Volume 30 Number 6, November 2000

DTP growth leveled off because market leader Sha-Ken refused to license their font library for PostScript, keeping it locked to their proprietary hardware, and because the first Japanese PostScript font format had severe limitations: they were a 1 byte hack with horrible performance issues that had to reside on a hard disk attached to the printer, they had small glyph sets and were very, very expensive.

A single unlimited resolution Morisawa PostScript font for an imagesetter cost ¥218,000. A basic set of 5 Morisawa fonts was a requirement for every Japanese PostScript licensee. When I was the imagesetter product manager at Heidelberg PrePress (old Linotype-Hell) our #1 customer request was for imagesetters without bundled Morisawa fonts, but our hands were tied by Adobe Morisawa Japanese font duopoly licensing.

Adobe and Morisawa addressed some of the original PostScript problems with CID, the first 2 byte PostScript format as a forced upgrade. The per font CID upgrade was not only expensive and time consuming (the floppy disk era), it also changed font metrics and Kanji designs. At the time Morisawa admitted customer reaction to the CID upgrade was negative: “Our biggest marketing challenge is how to explain all this to customers. We understand how customer feel confused. Part of the problem was that Adobe took so long coming out with CID.” Another part of the problem is Morisawa changed the font spacing data in their CID fonts without really telling anybody about it. Designers and production line operators opened documents and discovered they had to redo everything. The resulting publishing industry uproar forced Adobe and Morisawa to pull the CID upgrade and release an update for the update called ‘New CID’ that incorporated both new and old metrics for compatibility.

Things eventually settled down but the CID upgrade disaster left customers feeling wary about yet another upgrade, this time to OpenType. The uncertainty was palpable when I interviewed font designer Osamu Torinoumi of Jiyukobo for the Hiragino profile piece in mid 2002. The beautiful Yumin font had just been released:

JB: You have a new font, don’t you?

Torinoumi: Yes, the Yumin font. We’re releasing it as an OpenType font. But it doesn’t have the OpenType Pro glyph set. We will add other glyph sets gradually as an upgrade. Adobe Japan 1-4 doesn’t have all of the Japanese Industrial Standard (JIS) X0213 glyphs. JIS X0213 has all the possible characters used in Japan so that is a standard that will probably be used as we go along. Apple’s APGS (Apple Publishing Glyph Set) has all of X0213.

Our Yumin is ¥100,000 for a single license, and that is just for the first year. The second year, it costs ¥70,000. We also have volume licenses. We have to have a business model so we can keep adding more features (glyph sets, etc.). I think Morisawa must be having a tough time with OpenType…We really don’t know how it’s going to pan out.

The OpenType business model
Torinoumi’s comments succinctly outline the challenges facing font vendors at the time. Japanese OpenType wasn’t just a font upgrade for end users, it was a whole new business model for Japanese font vendors.

Adobe’s OpenType Japan announcement at Seybold Seminars Tokyo 1999 was the first official sign that the Japanese DTP industry had to migrate away from the PostScript printer font business model Adobe created 10 years previously. OpenType Japanese fonts downloaded dynamically and did away with printer fonts, they were no longer necessary, Japanese fonts finally worked like Western fonts.

All well and good, but there was the catch: Japanese fonts are expensive to produce, and the market was relatively smaller than the western one. How would a font maker create revenue to pay for all the work involved in making large glyph sets?

Jiyukobo’s Yumin font was the first new OpenType Japanese business model concept. Instead of selling a software package, they sold an annual subscription. In exchange, users got free tech support and upgrades like Adobe Japan 1-4 extended glyph sets, advanced layout and any other features that came along later. In a way it was a return to the traditional business model with printers paying monthly royalty font fees for use on proprietary typesetters…without the typesetter.

It took a long time for the industry to realign. Fontworks Japan launched their LETS program in 2001, which stands for Leading Edge Type Solution. While users could still buy a packaged font for ¥18,000, a single LETS license covering use of the entire FontWorks library cost ¥36,000 a year per client in addition to a one-time LETS “membership” charge of ¥30,000.

Japan’s first and largest PostScript font vendor, Morisawa launched their first OpenType products as OpenType Pro at ¥26,000 per font in 2002. No OpenType Standard, no upgrades for CID or OCF users, take it or leave it. At the time I asked Morisawa product manager Nobuaki Nakamura for a comment and he practically sputtered, “That’s right, no upgrades; and we’re not going to follow anything Apple does because it’s non-standard. Print it.” The remark shows how angry Morisawa was at Apple for bundling the Hiragino font and creating the Apple Publishing Glyph Set. Morisawa eventually came out with a LETS-like subscription service called Morisawa Passport in 2005.

APGS Shock
The Apple Publishing Glyph Set (APGS) was a MacOS Japanese character set initiative, separate from but simultaneous with the bundling of Hiragino. APGS created a stir because it added another set of glyphs above and beyond Adobe’s AJ 1-4 specification. At the time, Japanese font developers grumbled about yet another Apple-created spec that, like QuickDraw GX, would go nowhere. Yet it turned out to be a shrewd move.

APGS was based on the JIS X0213 standard (which was also released in 2000) with some additional glyphs from high-end Sha-Ken systems and the National Language Committee. Any JIS standard is the “final word” for Japanese character sets. By adopting JIS X0213 and releasing it as part of OS X, Apple created an instant “super-font” standard of 20,291 glyphs and upstaged Adobe Japan 1-4. Yasuo Kida was an Apple engineer who worked on APGS. He shared some recollections of the project.

Understanding Hiragino
When I visited Jiyu-kobo’s office for the first time, there was a drawing of the character 「あ」in mincho style on the wall. It drew my eyes and even to my untrained eyes it was obvious that there was nothing like that as a digital typeface. I suddenly realized everything.

I knew people complained that they did not have the digital typefaces that they wanted, but I did not really understand why they complained. Was it just nostalgia, or just an excuse for not changing the way they do their job? As soon as I looked at that character however, I realized that this is THE typeface they wanted but didn’t have.

I do not remember if it was Torinoumi san or (co-designer) Takada san who explained that it was a design called ‘A-Mincho’ and the A stands for “atarimae”. It was a typeface they were developing for printing literature. I fell in love with that typeface. The revelation was not related to Apple’s business decision or anything but it was the moment that I made up my mind. Apple licensed Hiragino, and later on the A-Mincho, or Yu-Mincho typfaces for iBooks.

The challenges
It was the late 90’s when fonts were added to my responsibilities. I saw a few challenges:

1) TrueType was not usable in DTP because of the limitation of the resolutionthe bundling TrueType in MacOS created problems for customers.

2) Lack of font varieties: Because you needed to have matching fonts on the printer’s hard disk to print your document, and because printer fonts prices were astronomical, the only reliable fonts that you could use at any service bureau were the few Morisawa fonts bundled with the output device.

3) Sha-Ken fonts were not available: many professionals complained that they can’t do their print job with DTP because Sha-Ken fonts were not available.

4) Lack of characters: professionals also complained that the Kanji glyph sets that they needed were not available in DTP PostScript fonts. These fell in two categories. One is ‘itaiji’ of Kanji that are either in or outside of the JIS X 0208 character specification. Another one is Kanji that are not in JIS X 0208. Interestingly we found many of the latter category were not in JIS X 0212 either.

At that time Mac OS was moving to Unicode. We needed therefore to define the base Japanese character set for the Unicode age. It was also the best timing to resolve the problem #4.

The APGS project was born in this environment. We did two things. One is to define the base character set which resulted in adopting JIS X 0213. The other is to define professional glyph set, APGS. APGS was done independently from choosing the fonts we bundled, however both projects went in parallel for the most part. Adopting APGS was a prerequisite for fonts we bundle.

The Solution
We decided to adopt JIS X 0213 as our new Japanese base character set replacing JIS X 0208 (the previous Mac Japanese encoding). JIS X 0213 was not final at that time but was taking form. We had some doubts if JIS X 0212 would fulfill people’s everyday needs, and we liked the approach that the JIS X 0213 team was taking. Being the base character set means we expanded our Kanji input method to take advantage of the JIS X 0213 character set.

For professional needs, we investigated every single character that phototypesetting systems had, e.g. up to Sha-Ken gaiji set C, and determined if the particular character should be included or left out. We wanted to say we have most if not all characters that are available in legacy systems including their gaiji plates that are not usually available.

In the process we learned that Adobe was also working on defining a new glyph set (AJ 1-4) with similar goals in mind. I wanted to merge the efforts but it did not work out. We could not just use Adobe’s effort as it seemed they were concentrating on itaiji of JIS X 0208, and were not working on adding Kanji that were completely missing. It meant we needed to continue with our own efforts.

At the same time, because the target was the DTP market, we needed to be upward compatible with whatever Adobe has. We made our glyph set upward compatible with theirs, expecting they will add ours to their glyph set later which is what happened.

At the start of the project we had decided to adopt Adobe’s format, i.e. CID, because TrueType was dead in the Japanese DTP market. I then changed the format to OpenType following the industry’s move. Hiragino became the first non-TrueType font bundled in Mac OS, Hiragino also ended up being the first Japanese OpenType font in the market, not our intention but it happened.

Because we did not adopt the Adobe Japan 1-4 glyph set, it forced Adobe to adopt APGS but things worked out nonetheless. Adobe’s development of InDesign J, capable of handing Unicode, and supporting authentic Japanese line layout, was a critical component in re-igniting the DTP market in Japan. Morisawa was upset at the time because Apple’s move changed the structure of the font market, but the market direction were already clear when Adobe announced OpenType J in 1998.

Results and some regrets
Hiragino being OpenType removed the need for printer fonts. Because APGS effectively had all characters found in the largest character sets on phototypesetting machines, it addressed complaints from professionals that there were not enough characters in DTP production.

The Hiragino font has Sha-Ken lineage and was welcomed by people who had complained about the lack of Sha-Ken typefaces. They all come free with macOS. Taken together with InDesign J they removed all excuses for not moving to DTP.

One of our concerns was that killing the printer font business, and increased development costs because of the extended character set would negatively impact the health of the font business. To survive the change we believed the font business needed to transition to the subscription business. And this is what happened. Fontworks started its LETS subscription, and Morisawa followed with Passport. It greatly widened the variety of fonts available for people to use. It was nice.

One small technical regret was that when we defined the properties of each glyph (e.g. fullwidth or proportional), we defined math symbols and some other symbols defined in JIS X 0213 as proportional as they should be in the internationalized system (which caused some turmoils in the Japanese OT world). At that time we decided leave Greek and Cyrillic fullwidth but if I were to decide now I would make them proportional.

Another regret was that we should have created a solid subset (or subsets) of APGS / AJ 1-5. Applications that really need the whole set of APGS are books. Display typefaces obviously do not need the whole set, nor do magazines and so on. We were concerned that font developers might think it necessary, or be pressured from customers to develop whole AJ15 or whatever whole set for every single font that they have when it is not really necessary.

To demonstrate this was not the case, we intentionally left some of our bundle fonts with a smaller subset. But it was not enough, it did not establish a solid character set category that everyone can follow. I should have worked with Adobe to develop a good standard subset based on X 0213 and give it a name. AJ 1-4 is not a good subset as it contains itaiji that many of applications do not need, and it does not contain important characters from JIS X 0213. AJ 1-4 is effectively used as a fallback subset right now.

In September 2002 the other shoe dropped when Adobe announced Adobe Japan 1-5 that incorporated APGS. A senior Apple engineer who had been part of every Apple OS internationalization project from Pink, to GX, to Taligent and finally MacOS X had this to say about the Apple • Adobe relationship: “If it wasn’t for GX, OpenType would never have happened.” I could not agree more and add that if it was not for GX and AAT tables, we wouldn’t have extended character sets and variable fonts the way we do now. Torinoumi thought that JIS X0213 (AJ 1-5) would become the standard of the high-end market. He was right.

For many developers (Adobe included), creating larger and larger fonts was not the best solution to handle the ever-evolving character standards. Adobe did go on to create more Japanese glyph collections but their ability to rally the industry around them diminished over time. Back in 2002 I thought that most Japanese fonts would probably stop at AJ 1-4, leaving Apple in the enviable position of giving users a industry standard super-font with every copy of Mac OS X…not a bad place to be. It’s pretty much how things panned out.


Developers and APGS enhanced Hiragino

I believe it is in everybody’s best interest, Adobe included, for Apple to continue innovating.

Isamu Iwata, Ergosoft marketing director 2002

Ergosoft was one of the very first Japanese Macintosh developers. In the 1980s, their egword text-editing application and egbridge input module were staples for every Japanese Mac user. The arrival of ATOK from JustSystem (for kanji input) and Microsoft Word put an end to Ergosoft’s market dominance in the mid-1990s. At the same time, a foray into cross-platform development turned out to be an expensive disappointment, and Ergosoft dropped Windows development in 1997. OS X gave Ergosoft a new opportunity, and the company took it by adopting Apple innovations that other developers ignored: ATSUI, the extended glyph set for Hiragino and the power of Apple’s AAT (Advanced Typography Tables).

In 2002 Ergosoft product manager Isamu Iwata sat down to discuss their products that used these technologies. It shows a Mac software industry in transition.

JB: One of the big features of egword 12 and egbridge 13 is the ability to use all of the Hiragino APGS extended glyph set. Was it difficult implementing these features?

Iwata: There was some engineering work using ATSUI, but making the decision to use ATSUI or not was a much more difficult decision. It was a little risky. Apple made lots of promises with QuickDraw GX, then completely dropped it. It took us two years to finally decide to support ATSUI. We did surveys of other developers to see if anybody was using ATSUI, but did- n’t find a single one. We were worried that if we were the only ones, it would disappear. I’m fairly certain we are the first developer to use ATSUI in a big way. Not even AppleWorks uses ATSUI.

We put a lot of effort into making a GX version of egword, but ended up throwing it away when Apple killed GX.

JB: Did you see any opportunities in using ATSUI?

Iwata: The deciding factor was the Hiragino fonts becoming part of Mac OS X. Even though Morisawa and the other font makers don’t have APGS [AJ 1-5] extended glyph sets, we still felt it was an opportunity, because it is part of the base system. The Hiragino fonts are high quality; they can satisfy the DTP market but also be of real value to other users as well.

JB: Does egword use any other ATSUI features besides the extended character sets?

Iwata: Not at this time. There was also a bug in ATSUI [prior to 10.2] that prevented us from accessing approximately 300 glyphs. We told Apple engineering when they visited here and they were very surprised. They promised to fix it in the next OS update. Such is the risk of being the only developer to use ATSUI and Hiragino.

JB: How do you maintain font-data compatibility with Adobe’s InDesign [which does not use ATSUI]?

Iwata: Hiragino has CID ID tags so the correct glyphs are imported [and displayed, printed, embedded in PDF documents, etc.] However, we cannot import some glyphs because they do not have CID tags. [Fixed in 10.2.]

JB: All of APGS does not have CID tags?

Iwata: Not all, only some…. egbridge can access all of the characters because of AAT and ATSUI, but applications like Excel and Word cannot accept them.

Ergosoft parent company Koei KK (now Koei Tecmo Holdings) shuttered the subsidiary in late 2007 and exited all Apple related business. The timing was unfortunate. After Apple released APGS in 2001 they did nothing to promote it or ATSUI. iPhone did not go on sale in Japan until 2008, the App Store economy had yet to materialize. If Koei KK had waited a few months things might have turned out very different.

Norihito Hirose and Kenta Arano, the very talented lead programmers of Ergosoft set up with own company Monokakido in early 2008 and created some of the first hit Japanese iPhone apps such as the Japanese dictionary Dajirin. They purchased the assets of egword and egbridge and resurrected them. They are still the best Japanese word processor and Japanese text input module on macOS.


Time Line

January 1994 QuickDraw GX launch
After being unveiled at MacWorld Tokyo 1989, QuickDraw GX launched in early 1994. Key font technologies include: extended character support, Apple Advanced Typography (AAT) tables, GX variable fonts, Open Font Architecture.

1995 CID PostScript Japanese Font Upgrade Disaster

August 1996 Apple cancels Copland OS

December 1996 NeXT Purchase (NEXTSTEP)

October 1998 ATSUI (Apple Type Services for Unicode Imaging)
Key GX text technologies brought forward for MacOS 8 and MacOS X: extended character sets, Apple Advanced Typography (AAT) tables, GX variable fonts.

November 1999 Adobe Japan 1-4
Adobe announces the first ‘Pro’ extended character collection specification and OpenType Japanese fonts with 15,444 glyphs at Seybold Seminars Tokyo.

February 2000 MacWorld Tokyo ‘Hiragino Shock’
Steve Jobs announces high end Hiragino fonts will be bundled with Mac OS X

March 2001 MacOS X 10.0 Hiragino
MacOS X 10.0 ships with Hiragino, the very first OpenType Japanese font.

September 2001 MacOS X 10.1 Apple Publishing Glyph Set
Apple Publishing Glyph Set enhanced Hiragino with 20,291 glyphs ships in OS X 10.1.

September 2002 Adobe Japan 1-5
Adobe announces a new OpenType Japanese font extended character set with 20,317 glyphs that incorporate the APGS extended character set.


Looking back
Hiragino Shock and Apple Publishing Glyph Set marked the end of an era of bold new typography developments in the Japanese market. Adobe went on to create other Japanese glyph collections but their ability to rally the industry around them diminished over time. The last time that Adobe and Apple cooperated was the OpenType Variable Font specification in 2016 which incorporated the Apple TrueType GX model and AAT tables, though these have yet to see any major release in the Japanese market.

It’s a shame the QuickDraw GX vision of international savvy, insanely great typography and layout as standard universal features all developers implement easily in high-level OS frameworks and standard app feature sets never survived. In today’s modern OS landscape I find it depressing that OpenType advanced typography features only live in full glory in Adobe Creative Suite apps. Although it is almost forgotten history, Apple’s font efforts for OS X raised the bar for standard OS typography features in Japan and moved the industry forward, for that users can be grateful.

Thanks to Yasuo Kida for sharing details behind the Apple Publishing Glyph Set initiative.


Related posts:

Inside Hiragino: A Closeup of Apple’s OS X Japanese Font

Stroke fonts forever

The Second Wave of Japanese Desktop Publishing

Requiem for Sha-Ken

A Japanese font design legacy restored: Morisawa and Sha-Ken agree to co-develop the Sha-Ken font library for OpenType

Global NFC FitBit Sense and Versa 3

Who would have thought that team FitBit would beat team Pixel to the market with global NFC devices? That is what happened with the release of FitBit Sense and Versa 3, any device bought in any country can add and use Suica. FitBit Charge 4 was the first device to support Suica but only for certain Japanese models. This means that Android users without global NFC can now add it with FitBit Sense and Versa 3. FitBit was up to the global NFC challenge all along. Going forward FitBit needs to expand Japan payment options to include iD, QUICPay, Waon, Nanaco, Mobile PASMO and NFC Pay.

There is one catch: the device must be registered and the IP address must be in Japan to use Suica. It sounds like Mobile Suica lite is being used. Hopefully the same approach can be employed to launch Octopus on FitBit devices in Hong Kong, there are users there who would appreciate it.

Will mobile ticketing go mainstream with new JR East Eki-Net?

Waku-waku for the new Eki-Net? JR East wants to make travel ‘waku-waku’ fun and romantic again like the Showa ‘Full Moon’ campaign era when JR Group ticketing was unified.

One unfortunate legacy of the Japanese National Railways (JNR) breakup and privatization in the late 1980’s was a fragmented ticketing system. The JNR paper ticket system worked very well. I was always impressed how you could go to any JNR Green Window ticket office and the all knowing agent would give expect advice and deftly punch up tickets to anywhere, in any configuration, even covering private rail.

The JR Group model fell apart in the internet era with online ticketing services, Suica and compatible Transit IC cards limited to separate JR Group regions. JR Group ticketing for paper, but not for mobile. What got broken doesn’t get put back together easily though it desperately needs to.

Last weekend the 20 year old JR East Eki-Net online ticket reservation system got the ‘renewal’ overhaul advertised back in March, that aims to reintegrate JR Group tickets into one slick consistent UI instead of a swamp of sub-menus. It also repositions Eki-Net from a limited ‘nice but I’ll stick with paper’ online purchase option to a standard way that JR East wants people to buy train tickets.

While eTickets have been in place since March 2020, Eki-Net 2 is the first serious step towards eliminating legacy mag-strip paper tickets and drastically reduce the number station ticket offices in favor of online mobile ticketing. The first stop for all JR East ticketing is now Eki-Net instead of lining up at a station ticket window.

There are 2 Eki-Net flavors: (1) the full comprehensive Eki-Net Web version optimized for desktop and smartphones offering mobile tickets, paper tickets, car rentals and tour packages like the classic 2nd honeymoon ‘Full Moon’ campaign for retiree couples, (2) Eki-Net App that only offers JR East eTicket and Ticketless mobile options.

What exactly is mobile ticketing?
To understand the aim of Eki-Net it’s important to know the basic ticketing categories:

  • Suica (Transit IC cards) pays the distance based fare using the Stored Fare (SF),
  • eTickets are cloud account Shinkansen ticket bundles that include the end to end distance fare plus the express • seat reservation charge, they are attached to the Suica or Transit IC card via the card number but do not use SF
  • Ticketless is a mixed mode that combines a cloud account express • seat reservation for regular express train seating used in combination with Suica SF
  • Touch and Go is a ticketless Shinkansen option that uses Suica and Transit IC cards for non-reserved seat Shinkansen travel in a pre-determined area, basically the whole JR East network

What’s new in Eki-Net 2?
Suica plays a central role in Eki-Net mobile ticketing. 2021 is also the 20th anniversary of Suica which has evolved beyond its commuter pass origins to encompass eMoney payments, mobile devices, Transit IC mutual compatibility and more.

In recent years Suica has gained another role as an all purpose mobile transit card hosting Shinkansen eTicket from JR East and SmartEX from JR Central. The challenge facing JR East is migrating the vast array of special ticketing and discount fares schemes from paper to mobile. Let’s take a look at the new banner features advertised for Eki-Net 2 and examine how JR East is doing this.

JRE POINT Integration
The integration of JRE POINT is the biggest new feature and illustrates JR East’s intention. The old Eki-Net point system was scrapped, good thing, there is finally point synergy and compatibility between Suica and Eki-Net. If you have any doubts that JR East is serious about mobile ticketing, take a look at the JRE POINT reward schedule:

Earning JRE POINT in Eki-Net, the VIEW PLUS Gold vs Regular 5% difference is obscene

Online paper ticket purchases give you basically zero points if you buy them with anything other than a JR East VIEW credit card, called ‘VIEW PLUS’ service which adds 3% or 8% more JRE POINT per ticket purchase amount depending on the VIEW card for a total of 5% (Regular VIEW) or 10% (Gold VIEW). JRE POINT can also be used for purchasing mobile only eTicket and Ticketless, and upgrading to Green Car and Gran Class seats. The upgrade exchange rate depends on distance and the train type, the new UI shows users all possible JRE POINT seat upgrades during seat selection.

Using JRE POINT in Eki-Net

Improved UI for web and app
Basically the new design dumps the old way of selecting the JR line or train and streamlines everything into a single station point and date entry screen. Seat selection is the advertised UI improvement and it shows: it is much improved on the web side, discount ticket comparisons are easy to see as are JRE POINT seat upgrades.

QR Codes support for group ticket pickup
A nice paper ticket option so that one person can purchase all tickets and send a QR Code for group members to pick up their tickets at the nearest station kiosk. It’s more convenient and replaces the old insert credit card and enter PIN code method for paper ticket pickup.

Eki-Net ticket discounts
Paper tickets have traditionally been the cheaper option. JR East must offer good discount incentives to drive mobile ticketing uptake. Fortunately the new Eki-Net ‘Tokuda-ne’ discounts offer anywhere from 5% off for same day tickets to 50% off for 20 day advance tickets. Discounts combined with JRE POINT are good but we’ll only find out if they drive mobile ticket uptake when regular train travel returns. While these options have closed the discount gap between mobile and paper somewhat, the majority of discount ticketing is still paper only.

JR-EAST Train Reservation
The international flavor of Eki-Net is called JR-EAST Train Reservation. It’s a completely separate web only multi-lingual service that offers regional passes for inbound tourists that can be purchased online before coming to Japan, or at a passport reading station kiosk. JR-EAST Train Reservation passes are different from the paper only Japan Rail Pass in that a growing number of them can be attached to Suica. New features here include: (1) Expanded multi-language support (2) pass purchases after coming to Japan (3) using Suica to attach eTickets. For the later there is a new user guide and How to register your IC card section. You can use Apple Pay Suica • PASMO by registering the card number, get the number using Suica App or PASMO App.

Weak points and summary
The Eki-Net renewal is big, complex and getting mixed reviews from Japanese users. Some love it, others hate it calling it, ‘an improvement for the worse’. The biggest gripe for many is that only up to 4 Express Train • Shinkansen sections are supported for one trip purchase. If you are traveling from Kagoshima to Aomori, forget Eki-Net and go straight to your local station ticket office for paper tickets.

The iOS Eki-Net App remains a nice idea that needs work. It feels like a thin re-skinned version of the mobile web one without offering any obvious benefit, the Face ID•Touch ID login option still useless as you have to manually login once every 24 hours and complete a picture puzzle. And there is no Apple Pay in-app support.

My biggest gripe is the failure of the JR Group to get their mobile ticketing act together. Sure, we have JR Central EX and JR East eTickets, but these are locked in their respective service regions. This is 2021, JR Group ticketing should be cross compatible, streamlined and mobile ready. It doesn’t matter how great JR East makes Eki-Net, users can travel with just Suica on the Tokaido and Tohoku Shinkansen, but they have to buy 2 tickets using 2 different accounts and billing with 2 different ticketing systems. We should be able to travel anywhere on JR Group lines using one account to buy mobile tickets. In todays scenario this isn’t possible. The unfortunate legacy of the JNR breakup lives on.

‘New Eki-Net’ poster at the local JR East station. The overall impression of Eki-Net 2 is that less about going mobile and more about getting customers out of the ticket office to a station kiosk machine instead.

Reference posts
JRE POINT Beginners Guide
Suica App • PASMO App Guide
Apple Pay Suica Shinkansen