Switch From Myriad to San Francisco: a Disaster For Japanese Typography

Apple’s Japanese web site for Suica Apple Pay using Apple TP

With the release of iPhone 6 in 2014, Apple refreshed their Japanese site with a new web font Apple TP  (above). Apple TP is a custom font using Myriad Set for roman glyphs and Axis for Japanese glyphs. One of the design aims of Axis was to harmonize roman and kanji glyphs in mixed text strings making heavy use of proportional spacing.

Some liked it, some did not but there was no denying that Apple had spent time and money on Japanese web typography.

This week ditched Myriad Set for San Francisco on their main English language pages. In Japan Apple ditched Apple TP and replaced it with SF Pro JP. The result is what you see below.

Apple’s Japanese web page for Apple Pay Support uses SF Pro JP which appears to be a custom mix of San Francisco roman glyphs and Hiragino Kaku Pro kanji and kana glyphs

SF Pro JP appears to be a horrific mish-mash of San Francisco roman glyphs and Hiragino Kaku Pro for everything else using Japanese style fixed spacing. The hot mess looks like an Apple Japan web page from 1995 using the long gone Osaka system font: raw Japanese text with zero typographic finesse,   huge    gaps     between      English    and   Japanese    text, weird spacing between kanji and kana glyphs.

Somebody at Apple really dropped the ball.

Update: Font folks from the mother ship tell me that SF Pro JP should not be rendering like that. 12 hours after the above screen grabs, SF Pro JP now renders like this (below) in Safari on macOS 10.12.3 and iOS 10.3 beta 1:

SF Pro JP render 1-27-2017.png

The bolder glyphs make the text stings look a little more balanced, if indeed this is how it is supposed to look, but Apple TP did a much better job balancing roman, kanji and kana glyphs into well-balanced, good-looking text strings. SF Pro JP text stings are gappy, chunky and ugly.

Apple Pay Suica Express Transit and Security

YouTube blogger macgeek discovered that Apple Pay Suica works on his Apple Watch Series 2 device even with the device locked and off his wrist. As explained in his video, this is the way Apple Pay Suica is supposed to work when Express Transit is turned on, but what about security?

Express Transit only works with the Stored Fare (SF) on Suica and debits the SF amount. Once SF is used up you have to recharge Suica using an Apple Pay credit card which requires TouchID authorization. 
If your iPhone or Apple Watch are stolen the thieves could use the SF amount of your Suica but could not use Apple Pay to recharge Suica or make purchases.

The only potential fly in the ointment would be if you have Suica SF auto-recharge enabled in the JR East Suica app. JR East limits daily SF auto-recharge to a 20,000 JPY maximum. 
In any case the solution is simple: if your iOS device is lost or stolen the first step is to turn on Lost Mode which disables Apple Pay.

Japanese Travel with Apple Pay

Digital ASCII writer Kenta Yamaguchi traveled to Osaka, Nagoya, Akita and Okinawa with only Apple Pay in his pocket. His verdict: Japan is getting closer to the government’s stated goal of having an 80% cashless/e-money society by the 2020 Tokyo Olympics…but we’re not quite there yet.

Yamaguchi san found pesky Airport Express Train ticket machines in Nagoya and the Okinawa Urban Monorail that do not accept NFC transactions, as well as temperamental Transaction Media-Networks UT1-Neo NFC readers that I wrote about earlier.

The next step for Japanese Apple Pay is to provide seamless NFC Type A/B support for Japanese loaded credit cards going abroad, as well as Japanese contactless payment system support for inbound NFC A/B customers. If credit card companies and transaction processors cooperating with Apple and Google can accomplish that, cashless society will become reality.

In other news Android Pay v1.12 launched in Japan this week wth support for NFC Felica and Rakuten Edy, just as predicted by Android Police on Friday. It will be interesting to watch the pay system race in Japan between Apple and Google in 2017.


OpenType Variable Japanese Font Developments

A font developer friend of mine is working on OpenType Variable Japanese font prototypes and sent some screen shot samples. His work is intriguing and a reminder that the upcoming JAGAT Page 2017 conference and exhibition will be an interesting one for Japanese font developers.


I look forward to talking with Japanese font developers at Page and hearing their thoughts on OpenType Variable Font development.

Originally I planned to write a big long post discussing the points raised by Matthew Butterick’s Thoughts on OpenType Variations. Instead here are the main points I see from the Japanese market view.

Western font developers see OpenType Variable Fonts (OTVF) as a rerun of  Apple QuickDraw GX fonts vs. Adobe Multiple Master fonts. This was never the case in Asian markets because Multiple Master technology was incompatible with CJK fonts, just like the original version of PostScript.

This is the reason why OTVF is based on the TrueType GX model, not Adobe technology.

Font Upgrades
Unlike western fonts, Japanese PostScript font formats have never been stable. In western markets font upgrades are considered an unnecessary luxury, in Japan they are a fact of life. There have been three major upgrade cycles that Adobe forced on the Japanese market since Japanese PostScript launched in 1989: the OCF (Original Composite Font) PostScript font to CID PostScript font update, the OpenType upgrade, and the various enhanced character set upgrades (Adobe Japan 1-4, 1-5, 1-6 glyph sets). The upgrades were fixes addressing the numerous CJK shortcomings of the original PostScript format that QuickDraw GX had leapfrogged.

Japanese font developers lead by FontWorks Lets program followed by Morisawa’s Passport changed the Japanese font market from selling font package software to selling annual subscriptions, just like Adobe Creative Cloud. The upside for Japanese font users is they get any font upgrade ‘free’ as part of their yearly subscription. When OTVF Japanese fonts are released, users can download and start using them when they are ready to.

OS & App Support
This is where it all plays out. Will Apple or Microsoft simply add OTVF support deep in the OS leaving their application product teams and 3rd party developers to, perhaps, add support at some distant point? As Butterick points out, Microsoft’s Office team took a long time to add OpenType (OT) support. Apple’s own iWorks suite has yet to support any advanced OT features or basic CJK features such as vertical text layout.

I agree with Butterick’s view that the customer is right but there is a chicken or egg aspect. Only when OS support for OTVF is aggressively high up in the OS frameworks making it easy, almost mandatory, with all the built-in apps supporting it, do customers finally experience the value.

I still think that Apple with its unique position owning both desktop and mobile platforms, is the only one of the OTVF partners (Google, Microsoft, Adobe, Apple) that can pull that off, if it can be pulled off at all.

To put it another way: TrueType GX lives on in OpenType Variable Fonts but will it live on in Apple?

Apple Pay Japan Tidbits: Suica & Apple Watch, Pokemon Go & iOS 10.2, Suica Reload Lag, Other Stuff


Hacks for Creative Life! Kita san has a wonderful introduction to Suica Apple Pay on Apple Watch Series 2, everything from Apple Watch setup and Suica App/Mobile Suica account setup, to using it. Kita san likes it very much and his daily commute is now “stress free.” If you have an older iPhone, are not ready to upgrade to iPhone 7 but want to use Apple Pay in Japan, Apple Watch Series 2 is an option worth considering.

I don’t know why but I was having trouble playing Pokemon Go with iOS 10.1. Suica sometimes didn’t seem to work until I quit the game. Testing the iOS 10.2 beta has been pleasant surprise. iPhone 7 feels faster and Suica response is always instantaneous and bullet proof now. It works fine with Pokemon Go even going through the station Suica turnstile. The only remaining flies in the ointment are those pesky TMN UT1-Neo readers and the horrible Lawson Apple Pay double verification checkout process. It is so bad that Japanese users tweet they are avoiding Lawson altogether.

There is another bonus for Japanese iPhone users in the iOS 10.2 beta, the camera shutter sound is much quieter and can be silenced with the mute button when taking screen shots.

Yuriko Ota wrote a interesting piece on the Keitai Watch news site about Suica Apple Pay reload lag. I have noticed the Apple Pay reload lag too, it takes 20 seconds or more after Touch ID verification for the reload amount to show up on Suica.

The lag is due to transaction processing on the JR East Mobile Suica system. The Android Mobile Suica app tells you that reloading can take anywhere from “20 to 60 seconds.” I notice that Suica reloading seems faster in the iOS 10.2 beta, about 15 seconds.