Another CoreText Crime?

John Gruber notices that smart punctuation was mysteriously working then not working in iOS 11 iMessage:

But if I’m right about why, then why does it apply to iMessage messages — a.k.a. blue-bubble messages — too? iMessage messages aren’t limited by the antiquated constraints of SMS in any other way, so why limit them typographically?

As Gruber notes, SMS messages are out of the question, but considering that the last 2 iMessage text crashing problems have been CoreText crimes, this smells like yet another.

One reader tweeted that Apple needs to fuzz the hell out of CoreText but I think that is a dead-end that will just go on forever. A CoreText reboot is the better long-term solution and use of limited engineering resources.

CoreTexttweet

 

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egword Universal 2 Returns to macOS March 14

egword Universal 2.1 AnnouncementSomehow it seems entirely appropriate that with CoreText under fire, Norihito Hirose of MONOKAKIDO announces the official return date of the very first top to bottom CoreText app, egword Universal 2.1. Longtime Japanese fans who created countless documents on the Mac only egword Japanese word processor app are overjoyed. egword was always praised for its Japanese typography quality and speed. The software was an integral part of many Japanese print operations.

egword Universal 2.1 will go on sale March 14 on the Mac App Store for ¥3,800. I don’t remember the exact 2006 pricing but it at least twice that. I hope to talk with Hirose san before the release date and write a blog post. It will be fun to hear about his return journey with egword and where he plans to go with it from here.

Congratulations Hirose san!

Time For Apple To Reboot CoreText? (U)

John Gruber says titles with question marks are bullshit but I’m going to ask the bullshit question anyway. Is it time for Apple to reboot CoreText? There is never a good time to replace a text layout rendering engine, but it’s always a good time to build a strong robust one.

CoreText is usually a dead Twitter topic but with the latest iMessage text/CoreText bug, coming right after the previously fixed one, there’s suddenly lots of complaining. In many ways this is just the tip of the iceberg.

The history of CoreText is convoluted to say the least. It’s a victim of Apple’s OS odyssey: the revolutionary QuickDraw GX roadmap of Classic MacOS, the attempt to sweep the good GX bits into OS X ATSUI, then sweeping those good bits in the modern 64-bit CoreText rewrite. Unfortunately many advanced typography GX features were scattered in the process and Apple’s half-assed text / font engineering resource allocation since the end of the GX era is now biting everybody in the ass. The long-term piecemeal approach is falling apart.

On top of this we now have the OpenType Variable Fonts built on the TrueType GX model. CoreText does all the rendering so “it just works” like TrueType GX always has but what is its place on iOS and what’s the angle for end users? Don’t worry, Google hasn’t figured it out either.

And then there is this little Twitter thread which has fascinated me for months.CoreText End

I have heard similar architectural criticism of CoreText from Japanese developers over the years such as the font engineers at Morisawa and Norihito Hirose of MONOKAKIDO who has seen and coded it all since the GX days and is busy wrangling with CoreText as he reboots the highly regarded egword Universal 2 Japanese word processing app.

With this latest iMessage mess I think we have an answer: it is time for a new text rendering engine for the modern mobile era of Apple A series CPU/GPU. Think Metal CoreText that off loads text rendering from the CPU with all the great but scattered advanced typography stuff from the GX days pulled into a single fully modernized, bulletproofed with integrated low level + high level frameworks across all Apple platforms. Oh, and ample engineering resources to support it all.

Apple created the modern computer era of advanced typography, Apple platforms deserve the very best text technology and advanced text layout engine. Unfortunately the days of new grand text rendering architectures have been over since the QuickDraw GX era. I don’t see it returning.

I sincerely hope I am wrong.

Update 2/20/2018: edited links and some text for clarity.

egword Universal 2.1 Open Alpha v304

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Monokakido‘s Hirose san is busy cranking out egword Universal 2.1 updates with new versions coming every few days, now up to v304.

It’s a great tool for beautiful Japanese vertical text layout. My only wish is for an iOS iPad version with robust iCloud Drive support so I can easily move from device to device. I’m pretty sure Hirose san is planning to add that as soon as he can.

Give it a test if you have time and send feedback.

Funky Japanese Station Sign Tape Fonts (U)

Keep to the left
Keep to the left sign at JR Shinjuku. The last kanji is a clue to the Tensho han (seal) style.

Shinjuku JR station is the O’Hare Airport of my youth, a never-ending construction project migrating from section to section in an endless loop. Japanese train stations like Shinjuku and Tokyo are never truly finished. Maybe that’s a good thing but I avoid both unless absolutely necessary.

Going down the platform stairs at JR Shinjuku the other day I did a double take because the signage looked like simplified Chinese characters not Japanese Kanji.

Stairs ahead
Stairs Ahead

On closer inspection they are Japanese kanji but very funky kanji made with tape instead of being drawn. The signs are in a construction area and obviously temporary. The font design appears to be in the ‘Tensho‘ style, highly stylized kanji designs based on ancient Chinese characters used for seals. And tape signs.

Even for a temporary station sign, it’s a very odd design choice. Perhaps the tape material forced the construction worker’s hand but the fonts display flair and creativity in a pinch. Check them out if you happen to be in Shinjuku JR station, they will not be around long.

Another Keep Left sign
Keep Left

Update: a reader send a link to a Japanese article profiling Shuetsu Sato, the construction site guard who creates the signs at Shinjuku station with regular gum tape you can buy anywhere. It’s a common technique in the countryside used at school fairs, festivals and anyone can do it, but Sato san’s signs caught the attention of a few Tokyo city writers. Catching people’s attention is exactly the intention as people are basically walking in a construction area.