MacInTouch and me

I don’t know why but Ric Ford’s MacInTouch site has been on my mind a lot recently. It’s a feeling I’ve learned to trust, a sign that something is about to disappear for good…like a distant old relative. I stopped reading MacInTouch regularly sometime in 2003 when Ric Ford changed the format from a daily web post incarnation of the old Ford/LePage MacInTouch column that ran in the MacWeek print edition (and disappeared shortly after Steve Jobs returned to Apple), to an edited format of the MacInTouch Discussions forum. At the time I found the new generation of Apple bloggers like John Gruber’s Daring Fireball to be more informative and fun, though DF has morphed into a decidedly not fun grumpy web presence that wanders off into politics way too much for a tech blog.

At its best MacInTouch was invaluable for keeping the Mac faithful together and warm in the dark cold late Scully~Spindler~Amelio Apple death spiral days. It was like hanging out with other Mac users at a local computer store along with the proprietor. There was actually a place like that for me in Shizuoka, Yaizu actually, a little shop by the harbor called Data Planet that only sold Apple hardware. All the local Mac users would go there after work and hang out to chat, trade information and try out the latest software. A happy time. But there was something more in MacInTouch, there was a strong sense of helping other users with timely, detailed, smartly edited information that I just don’t see anymore in this age of opinion blogs and tech news sites.

I used to write for MacInTouch occasionally as a ‘contributing editor’ covering the MacWorld Tokyo conferences when Steve Jobs still gave keynotes (the last one being 2002) along with contributing editor Henry Norr before he moved on to the San Fransisco Chronicle and was famously fired for joining a demonstration opposing George W. Bush’s Invasion of Iraq. How times change n’est pas? MacInTouch had a run-in with Steve Jobs not long after his return when Apple PR closed down access on a story I was working on.

If you write for Macintouch I think any interview with Harada san <then president of Apple Japan> would not be appropriate. This is a rumor site that prints unsubstantiated stories about Apple.

MacInTouch #1
Thanks…I’m trying to hash it out now with Jobs, but I don’t know if I’ll get anywhere. (He admitted a kind of blacklisting in a subsequent message, and we’re now debating that.)

MacInTouch #2
I had an extended email exchange with Jobs, and he finally admitted the blacklisting after several weasel messages…it really pissed me off, but it’s in keeping with his reputation.

All of those old posts are long gone and inaccessible but here’s the last thing I wrote for MacInTouch:

MacWorld Tokyo 2002

What a difference a month makes. This was the first springtime MacWorld Tokyo ever and instead of the cold ripping winds of Makuhari, there were warmer whipping winds and cherry trees in bloom for expo goers who took time to find them.

Steve Jobs had no big new products to show off and this was his least exciting Tokyo keynote so far. Even so he put his best foot forward and pulled off a decent show-must-go-on performance. First off he listed all the topics for the day, MacOS X, Digital Hub, iMac, Bluetooth, Cinema Display and iPod with the first 2 topics closely following his San Francisco MacWorld keynote script with a few tweaks for the Japanese audience.

MacOS X, which Jobs said is ‘just about done’ headlined new X Japanese versions of Adobe’s InDesign and the forthcoming Photoshop 7 but as the Adobe Japan executive doing the demo said ‘we won’t be showing it on the floor’. Next up was the Japanese developer ErgoSoft who have had a bit of a renaissance of late with their X version of ‘EG Word’, a word processor, and ‘EG Bridge’ a ‘front end processor’ for inputting Japanese text.

Back in the KanjiTalk System 6 days EG Word and EG Bridge were king of the Mac Japanese word processing market. But after System 7 and localized versions of Microsoft Word hit the market Ergo lost its way and most of their market share. Right now they seem to be the only local developer taking advantage of the advanced OpenType/ATSUI MacOS X Japanese character sets announced by Jobs 2 years ago. Ergo president Yoichi Erikawa showed how easy it was to input and choose 24 different character combinations for the name ‘Watanabe’. He also showed how easy it is to import the extended character sets into InDesign and not have it change to garbage text. He paused for a moment and said to the audience ‘you can’t do this with Windows:..only with MacOS X.’ which got more applause than Adobe.

FileMaker president Dominique Goupil showed off another Mac warhorse with the recently released FileMaker Mobile for iMode cell phones, a very popular home grown item. FileMaker is flexible as ever and he showed how easy it is to add fields to a layout even with iMode users connected. This is a product aimed squarely at the Japanese cell phone market and has many exciting possibilities.

Apple’s Mike Evangelist then showed off Final Cut Pro 3.0 exactly as he did at San Francisco, and finally a LucasFilm executive showed how Maya was used for storyboarding the next Star Wars episode. He also showed a sneak preview clip which got applause but I remember how in the first Star Wars George Lucas used to do more with less. Now with digital effect overkill, he seems to use everything and ends up with nothing. Ho-hum, I’ll wait for the video.

The Digital Hub section outlining iMovie, iTunes, iDVD was an exact re-run of the previous keynote and Jobs ran them all through their paces. With the iMac, Jobs had some ‘good news and some bad news’. For the good news he went out of his way to quell rumors that Apple stores were more important than resellers, saying that Apple had shipped 125,000 new iMacs of which ‘less than 10%’ went to Apple Stores. Also he said that Apple was making 5,000 iMacs a day. ‘So we hope to catch up with demand by April’.

And the bad news? Component costs, memory and LCD displays, have risen 25% on average leaving computer manufactures with 2 choices: keep prices and lose features or keep features and raise prices. Jobs choose the latter raising iMac prices $100 across the board effective today, but he pledged to honor previous prices on all previously booked orders.

In the Bluetooth segment Jobs presented a wire/wireless connectivity model: for network connections we have Ethernet vs. AirPort, for peripherals we have FireWire and USB vs. Bluetooth. Bluetooth for the rest of us will be built into the next version of MacOS X with a beta download available shortly, you can purchase the D-Link DWB-120M USB Bluetooth Adapter from the Apple store as of today. On stage Jobs used the USB Bluetooth adapter to sync his Palm desktop and if you are a Palm user this is a real boon, all you have to do is point and click the Sync button. He also showed wireless modem setup with a cell phone.

The new Cinema Display HD was up next. At 23 inches, 1920×1200 pixels and 3,499 USD, the new display is not for the faint of heart but after seeing it at the Apple booth, it will take your breath away.

And last but not least, Jobs announced a 10GB version of iPod for $499. ‘How long is 2,000 tunes?’ Jobs asked. ‘Enough to last 6 trips between Tokyo and San Francisco’. In addition to the new configuration, the Apple Store now offers custom laser engraving on the back of your iPod ‘for only $49’ and a new iPod firmware update that adds a new ‘Contacts’ menu item. Contacts uses the vCard standard which means you should be able to download data from Palm and Entourage and can store up to 1000 contacts. It all looks convenient enough but I wonder if the next step is a keypad instead of the wheel and ‘iPhone’ instead of ‘iPod’.

If there is any shortage of new iMacs in the retail channel it wasn’t evident on the expo floor. They were everywhere in the Apple booth and beyond. The floor didn’t seem as large as the previous venue in Makuhari, but the layout was good with a healthy mix of big guns, special solutions and game vendors. I’ll have more on that with part 2 tomorrow.

Badly dated of course but looking back it’s easy to see how quickly things were changing: the old MacWorld Expo business model was dying. The iPod success allowed Apple to rebuild itself and the future. Apple PR sealed off media access to a few select superstar personalities. The cozy old Mac user group model of hanging out at the local family owned computer shop gave way to big sleek Apple Stores with Genius Bars.

I doubt many people remember when MacInTouch was important or what it meant back in the day when personal computers were really personal. For that reason I will be sad when it finally passes on to the great dark memory hole of the internet. It was a good run…thanks for the memories Ric.

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.

Japanese font legacy rescued: Morisawa 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 and their incompetent management, since 2018, they are cutting a deal with Morisawa. But let’s be real, Sha-Ken is now a real estate holding company. They do not sell or produce any products. They no longer have the font engineering talent to bring their legacy font library back from the dead and into the digital era.

Morisawa has a very talented font development team, they even have Jiyukobo, creators of the Hiragino Japanese system fonts used in macOS and iOS, which they 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, who led the effort at the time should be proud of today’s announcement.

It’s hard to emphasize how important this development is. Imagine the LinoType library, or classic 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. No Japanese font vendor has yet to release anything in that variable font format so far.

The Morisawa led “co-development” 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. Getting a simplified basic Sha-Ken library in OpenType Adobe Japan 1-3 glyph collection 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 cut loose their last remaining 100 customers and live on as a real estate holding company. Despite the co-development announcement, Morisawa is the caretaker of 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

Also see: History of Sha-Ken and Morisawa Photo Typesetter development (great article by a Japanese desginer written in German!)

Japanese Typography and Font Posts

This is a collection of long form Japanese typography posts. They were written as stand alone pieces, so there is some background explanation overlap, always a weak point of the blog format.