The Apple Stock app widget needs some Japanese localization work

Japanese company names in the Stock app widget

Good localization is never easy, that is to say it’s easy to fuck up, especially when different app pieces come from different companies. I already pointed out that the Yahoo supplied backend Japanese data took a real nosedive after the Verizon purchase, but there is more.

Japanese stock ticker names in the Stock app widget are hideous to look at. They shrink into oblivion instead of intelligently truncating a long name to keep it readable. This is a textbook case of how not to do app internationalization. Nobody at Verizon or Apple evidently cares enough about quality to fix it. It’s another nail in the coffin of Apple’s typography legacy.


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Almost Useable: Japanese Vertical Text Support in iWork Pages Update (U)

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.

Google Maps experiences a Apple Maps meltdown in Japan (U)

Early this month Google Japan announced new features for Japanese users that would include better map data and easier navigation. Instead of “in 100 meters turn left”, Google Maps now says “turn left at the 7-Eleven.” The rollout however is not going very well and is surprisingly similar to the previous Google Maps meltdown in 2015 when anybody could edit map data directly.

This past week map otaku complained on Twitter that Google had dumped premier Japanese digital map data supplier Zenrin for in-house data and weird things were happening. Japanese Twitter is now full of screenshots of parking lots transformed into roads, mountains into lakes and railroad lines suddenly gone missing. It’s like zooming back to the 2012 Apple Maps launch with underwater subway stations in Yotsuya Tokyo or the infamous Gundam Pachinko JR train station. Things came to a head when Zenrin’s stock price crashed today based on speculation that Google had dumped them, though neither company commented. Bloomberg ran the story in Japanese and English, which is unusual, and local IT press coverage has been brutal.

I have seen the Google mapping van and the Google mapping backpacker in the neighborhood occasionally, but one problem seems to be that Google replaced Zenrin data, which has a large field verification team behind it, with in-house map data automatically extracted from satellite images.

I’m sure Google will fix most things, eventually, but there is a growing consensus that Zenrin quality cannot be replaced with in-house AI created data and Google Maps in Japan is destined to become an also-ran service like Apple Maps. Time will tell, but taken together with the recent claims of a growing reverse vishing problem in Asia, the Google Maps reputation in Japan is taking a big hit.

If Apple were smart they would use the opportunity to sign Zenrin and finally get their hands on top rate Japanese map data instead of the 3rd rate Increment P. Until then stick with Yahoo Japan Maps who not only has the superior Zenrin map data but the best cartography too, which they constantly tweak and improve. Take a quick look of the same Shinjuku area in Apple Maps, Google Maps and Yahoo Japan Maps and see how many train and subway stations you can easily pick out of the stew at a glance. Yahoo Japan Maps wins every time.

UPDATE
Apple Maps has kicked off a huge image collection effort in Japan. They have a unique chance to change their position in the market.

iWork update to add vertical CJK text support at Apple Special Event (U)

Screenshot of vertical text Pages update from Flick News site

The Japanese Flick News site reports that iWork/Pages/Keynote will finally gain vertical CJK text layout support with the major iWork update announced today with the new iPad Air and iPad Mini, that should drop at the March 25 Apple Special Event along with iOS 12.2. Mainland China and Korea have pretty much abandoned traditional vertical layout for books and newspapers over the years but vertical text layout is still very important for the Japanese market.

Microsoft Word is the only major word processing application that currently supports CJK vertical text layout across macOS and iOS. The late great egword Universal 2, the first top to bottom Core Text word processing app on the market, returned to macOS recently but has yet to appear on iOS. Robust vertical text layout support in iWork across macOS and iOS will be a great update but like all things, the devil will be in the details. As one eminent Japanese font engineer once told me regarding OpenType J fonts and the state of typography in most apps:

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.


Apple’s advanced typography technology lineage goes back to QuickDraw GX

Apple has a long history of creating rich text layout and font technology that never makes it into their own apps. Case in point: the Core Text API that provides vertical text layout handling has been around since OS X 10.5 Leopard (2007), why has it taken Apple 12 years to add that support in their word processing app suite?

Update
Major Japanese IT news sites and blogs are running the iWorks CJK vertical text support update story and screenshot without attribution. It smells like somebody leaked a press release in advance of next week’s event.

Update 2
A press source tells me that Apple sent out iWork update PR to select outlets with the iPad announcement. Why not just put it on the Apple web site where everybody can see it? It would create some positive buzz in the Japanese market where Apple needs it. This kind of boneheaded nonsense is sad commentary on how also-ran and unimaginative Apple PR and marketing have become.

Update 3
The update has arrived and the vertical text support is rather elementary level, almost useable.

Another Google Maps Moat News Cycle

Buckle up map fans, another Google Maps vs. Apple Maps news cycle just arrived. In case you forgot the cycle goes like this:

  • Justin O’Beirne posts a new analysis
  • Tech writers swoon (Gruber following Heer right on cue) but one of them says, “I don’t use Google Maps, Apple Maps works just fine for me.”
  • Overseas commentators clock in saying “that might be true in the USA but Apple Maps suck here in XXX.

OK, after a long hibernation the once and future Apple Maps cartographer head honcho Justin O’Beirne is trolling his former employer again and posted his analysis of the iOS 12 Apple Maps reboot. It is very long so here is a summary:

The Apple Maps team is collecting lots of data all by itself and processing it in India <everybody knew that already>

But

Apple Maps still relies too much on 3rd rate 3rd party data supplies like TomTom, Yelp, Foursquare, etc. <ditto>

And

Apple Maps does a poor job of coordinating, editing and vetting different sets of data. Because of this Apple Maps really sucks at labeling and placing things correctly. <duh and duh>

The most interesting bit is the footnote at the end:Apple's New Map Footnote

O’Beirne knows his tech audience well. His ‘Google is sucking up ever more information and contributors who know how to label things for AR…how will Apple ever compete?’ line of reasoning is calculated to play well with that crowd because nobody will bother asking questions like ‘how will Google vet all those local map contributions’ and assume machine AI algorithms will take care of that along with geopolitics and human mischief. Who vets the vetters and how?

AI technology has its place of course but will never replace human understanding. A small team of smart editors can tie together maps, transit and booking into a handy service. A real team of local knowledgeable talented editors doing more with less is exactly what makes Yahoo Japan Maps a much better product than Google Maps or Apple Maps for Japanese users. Unfortunately this isn’t sexy or interesting to the Western tech crowd because it isn’t technology. So O’Beirne will continue to get the clicks and the praise. To which I can only say, another hit with the tech blogger crowd for Justin O’Beirne…you go Justin O’Beirne! It’s all great fun.