Killing the golden egg goose

Amid the swirling EU ‘iPhone must be open’ debate, there’s an angle for everybody. Every proponent, from software developers who want side-loading to payment networks and banks who want open NFC, to EU regulators who want ‘open market’ (yeah right), and especially software ‘security’ companies who want to sell endless fixes for endless security breeches engineered by… you know who, expect a bonanza. iPhone finally released from the Apple walled garden is gonna make everybody rich.

Japanese developers and tech reporter veterans are thankfully more detached and acerbic than passionately hysterical westerners who are more in love with passionate hysteria than clear thinking. Not that they love Apple, Google, Microsoft, etc., or don’t think they should be regulated in some way, they just seem more aware of practical reality. If you want to know what opening iPhone means look no further than this; Everyone’s favorite iPhone will fall prey to shitty antivirus software companies. A world where you throw money away.

Maybe shitty antivirus software companies and shitty bank payment networks will make more money from a heavily regulated and opened iPhone, in the short term, and it will be users who are forced to throw their money away because they don’t understand the complexity being forced on them. As Steve Jobs once said, customers are pay Apple to make those choices and strip away the complexity. Not anymore.

In the new world order there aren’t bundled hardware + software smart devices to choose from, users choose the hardware, then they choose the software. Good luck with that. In the long term, a new world where hardware and software can’t be sold as a closed bundle is going to break a lot of hardware development business models out there, not just Apple’s. All those passionate ‘open’ proponents better be prepared for hard reality when the cut open the iPhone goose that laid golden eggs, and find nothing.

Apple asks Japan to bring back carrier subsidies for 5G

Journalist Tsutsumu Ishikawa posted an interesting article covering the May 17 Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC) industry workgroup meeting examining fair competition in the Japanese smartphone market. Specifically it was a review of the effects from the October 2019 rule changes that eliminated JP carrier subsidies.

What other media outlets didn’t pick up was that Ann Rollins, Senior Director of Government Affairs at Apple attended the meeting and gave a presentation. Rollins pointed out that the MIC rule changes eliminating carrier locked devices and 2 year contracts, haven’t helped the industry (Rollin’s comments translated from Ishikawa san’s Japanese article):

Since the October 2019 rule changes, customer MNP switching between carriers has (seriously) declined instead of increasing, contrary to the objective of the rule changes…

While the smartphone penetration rate is rising, the number of shipments is sluggish. This is due to various factors, such as the lengthening of the handset replacement cycle and the use of used handsets, but from the perspective of the new handset market, despite the big event of switching to 5G, the situation is stagnate…

Unfortunately, the penetration of 5G devices accounts for only 3% of the total number of (Japanese) mobile phone subscribers. For example, there is official data that the penetration rate in South Korea is 17%. In order for customers to actually enjoy the benefits of new technologies and services through 5G, the spread of compatible devices is indispensable, but at present, the spread of 5G is generally sluggish…

Infrastructure and devices can be said to be two wheels. No matter how much you build a highway, it doesn’t make sense if you don’t have cars running on it. Now that the separation of mobile carrier contract plans and smartphones has been achieved, it may be necessary to make an exception for 5G purchases from the viewpoint of promoting the growth of 5G smartphones…

Measures are needed to prevent delays in the growth of 5G. What is important for users is the total cost of mobile phones. Now that complete separation has progressed and low-priced plans have appeared, it is desirable to leave what should be left to market competition to market competitively, which can be expected to further reduce total costs. We request that you (MIC) scrutinize the need to maintain a uniform device purchase subsidy and consider exceptions for 5G in order to provide users with a variety of options.

In other words Apple is asking Japan to let carriers subsidize 5G smartphone contracts…a little. I suspect Rollins was also there to discuss getting the MIC My Number ID card digital initiative coming to Osaifu Keitai devices by 2023, on Apple devices.

Unfortunately the MIC 2019 rule changes came just in time…for the COVID pandemic. iPhone 12 was not even a upgrade consideration for me because NTT docomo switched to 3 year contracts. My iPhone 11 Pro will be paid off by October 2022. When my partner upgraded his iPhone in December, the docomo representative said a lot of customers were taking a wait and see approach. The 5G network is still building out and there is the Face ID with face mask problem. He went with an iPhone SE2 because of price and the ease of Touch ID, the SE unfortunate success factor. I think lots of people did the same which matches another finding of the MIC workgroup: high-end smartphone upgraders have migrated to the middle range.

While there no guarantee MIC will consider Apple’s suggestion, allowing carriers to discount ‘up to ¥20,000’ would help the 5G transition. The market is still repositioning with recent carrier ‘budget brand’ initiatives like NTT docomo ahamo KDDI povo and Rakuten Mobile gaining 1st tier iPhone carrier status. Things are in flux but Apple asking MIC for 5G carrier subsidies does say something about the state of things.

Mobile FeliCa will drive the My Number digital ID card on Osaifu Keitai devices using NFC B, MIC is in discussions with Apple to bring the initiative to iPhone and Apple Watch

Sha-Ken finally launches a website

The Sha-Ken web site uses Noto Sans JP…

Sha-Ken finally got a website, listing themselves as Sha-Ken Co., Ltd. Big deal so what, except that it’s not 1991 or even 2001. A font company doing business without a website until 2021 is tantamount to not doing business at all. That it has taken them some 30 years to acknowledge digital fonts on the web says all that you need to know about the tragic Sha-Ken saga. The site has samples of famous classic Sha-Ken fonts that are certainly the OpenType launch candidates due in 2024, a full archive is due to go online in May. There is also a dreamy catchphrase: ‘building the next future of fonts and type culture,’ but the site design uses Google Noto Sans JP fonts…not a Sha-Ken web font to be found. Actually Sha-Ken is building supermarkets while leaving digital font development of their venerable library to Morisawa. And as FeliCa Dude gleefully notes, the company hagiography does not mention the 1999 infamous tax scandal.

There is another 1999 scandal that few people outside of Apple and Sha-Ken of that time know about: Apple almost bought Sha-Ken, or at least the library. In 1998 and 1999 I was close to Ross Evans, the founder of Fontworks. I wrote about Fontworks’ QuickDraw GX based Japanese stroke font technology and font designs that were due to be bundled as the default Japanese system font in the ill-fated MacOS Copeland. That did not pan out obviously but Ross had many close contacts within the Apple typography engineering and publishing market groups and kindly plugged me into that world including Jeff Martin who was the VP overseeing DTP marketing and developer relation efforts.

One day in early February 1999 I woke up to find a email from Jeff’s secretary asking me to contact Jeff right away. I did and his email immediately bounced back from the Apple corporate email server ‘user does not exist’, so did the secretary email address. In the space of 5 hours Jeff Martin’s position in Apple, along with his email address had vanished into thin air.

I later pieced together the story from Ross and others in Apple, many of whom soon followed Jeff out the door: Jeff had arranged a deal between Apple and Sha-Ken but the deal along with Jeff’s career at Apple were ‘Steved’ at the last second, right about the time that Japanese tax officers found millions of Japanese yen hidden away in basement safes at Sha-Ken corporate headquarters (worth more than 200 million worth in USD at the time). I never found out what he wanted to ask me.

Apple of course signed a licensing deal with Screen for the Hiragino fonts that became the MacOS X Japanese font, and iOS Japanese font later on. Perhaps the Screen deal was another reason for the collapse of the Sha-Ken one. We’ll never know. Still it’s fun to think about what would have happened had the Apple Sha-Ken deal gone through as planned.

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

Today is great day for Japanese typography: Morisawa and Sha-Ken announced they will co-develop the Sha-Ken font library for OpenType (English press release here), due for release in 2024 in celebration of the Japanese typesetter they created 100 years ago. The founders of Morisawa (Nobuo Morisawa) and Sha-Ken (Mokichi Ishii) co-created the first modern Japanese typesetter in 1924 but quickly became 2 different family companies. By the late 1970’s Sha-Ken had grown to be the dominate force of the Japanese pre-press market with the largest and most sought after font library. In the 1980’s it started to unravel.

Sha-Ken never made the transition to digital pre-press and PostScript fonts, which Morisawa did with its very profitable licensing agreement with Adobe. When Sha-Ken announced OpenType fonts at the 2011 International eBook Expo, they were a has-been company run into the ground by sheer greed. They never delivered on that promise. As the former Sha-Ken lead font engineer told me, there was no font engineer talent left in the company to do the job of re-creating the proprietary digital format library into OpenType.

Now that Sha-Ken is finally free of the founder family, since 2018, they are cutting a deal with Morisawa who have the necessary talent and font engineering expertise to bring the Sha-Ken font library back from the dead and into the digital era. They even have Jiyukobo, creators of the Hiragino Japanese system fonts used in macOS and iOS, which Morisawa bought in 2019. An interesting side story: Apple negotiated with Sha-Ken to purchase their library shortly after Steve Jobs returned but it never came to be, Jeff Martin should be proud of today’s announcement.

It’s hard to emphasize how important this development is. Imagine the LinoType library, or everyday standards like Helvetica, New York, etc. were never licensed as digital fonts…until now. The release will certainly not use the OpenType Variable Font format due to cost and time restraints. Morisawa has yet to release anything in that format so far.

The co-developer team will also have to prioritize and edit as the Sha-Ken library is huge and only a small subset ever made it onto proprietary Sha-Ken digital typesetters. There are huge glyph variation and feature holes to fill. Just getting a simplified basic Sha-Ken library in OpenType format will be a tremendous job.

The 2024 delivery date is important in more ways than the 100th anniversary of Japanese typesetting. With Sha-Ken selling off everything they can over the past 2 years, 2024 is when the last Sha-Ken digital typesetters go out of service. Sha-Ken will stop pretending to be a font developer, cut loose their last remaining 100 customers and live on as a real estate holding company. Morisawa is the only listed contact on the co-development announcement, they will eventually buy out the Sha-Ken library.

But that’s a story for another day. Today is a celebration. After nearly 100 years of separation, 2 halves of a whole are coming together again. In Requiem for Sha-Ken I wrote, “When the last person turns out the lights at Sha-Ken KK, I hope they open the vaults and set the Sha-Ken font library free. Only by taking flight and having a life of its own can it ever hope to live on in the hearts and imaginations of future Japanese designers.” Japanese designers finally have their font legacy back.


Sha-Ken finally has a web site and an archive of their font library
Sha-Ken’s last hurrah font announcement in 2011 never panned out
Sha-Ken’s 2011 OpenType font announcement listed Ishii Mincho and Ishii Gothic, these will likely be the first candidates for release in 2024 from Morisawa. A fuller list of classic Sha-Ken font samples here. Sha-Ken fonts were widely used by manga printers in the 70’s and 80’s and permeated the print culture of the era.
The old Sha-Ken Saitama factory site was demolished for a supermarket mall in 2020

Reference posts and background links:
Requiem for Sha-Ken
Inside Hiragino: the macOS Japanese system font story
Inside Hiragino: Hiragino Shock and Apple Publishing Glyph Set
CSS and The State of Japanese Vertical Layout
The Second Wave of Japanese Desktop Publishing
Apple’s Once and Future Japanese Variable System Font
History of Sha-Ken and Morisawa Photo Typesetter development (great article by a Japanese desginer written in German!)

Power and Responsibility and Cultural Respect

It took me a while to fully appreciate the issue that Twitter user Yoshimasa Niwa was describing. At first glance I and many others assumed that setting Japanese over English would solve his app library sorting issue.

Then I realized that wasn’t his point at all. The software app in the screenshot is the Yahoo Japan ‘Norikae Annai’ transit app, one of the most popular free stand alone transit apps in Japan. I use it all the time. It’s a Japanese app with a Japanese name but the basic iOS English sorting algorithm ignores this and assumes all Chinese characters used everywhere must follow modern mainland China’s Simplified Chinese rules for reading and sorting.

This is ridiculous as assuming that all Roman based character sets everywhere must follow modern Italian reading and sorting rules. I always find that westerners assume the Kanji culture flow was always one way from China which it is not, with different and unique readings, usages, and Japanese Kanji like shitsuke 躾 traveling the other way over the centuries. The same is true for other cultures that adapted the Chinese writing system for their languages.

It amounts to cultural destruction by neglect and ignorance by large western based technology companies who think things are ‘good enough’. Or are just bugs to fix in a later software update that usually never appears. Modern computer software has pretty much destroyed traditional kanji culture publishing this way, with many countries abandoning mainstream traditional vertical text layout for western style layout because ‘it’s easier’, i.e. western tech companies couldn’t be bothered getting Asian language typography right. All these years later web browsers still can’t do vertical text worth a damn.

A veteran Japanese font engineer whose entire career was devoted to preserving high end Japanese typography in the digital age recently told me, “I don’t think anybody cares anymore.” In the end it all too often comes down to this: I don’t care cultural death by I don’t care companies who have the money and power to care.

That’s bitter irony in our age that purports to champion cultural diversity.