Beyond Helvetica Neue: The real story behind fonts in iOS 7

“In his [WWDC 2013] session, Ian Baird, the person in Cupertino responsible for how Apple’s mobile products handle text, showed off what he called the ‘coolest feature in iOS 7’: Text Kit,” Jürgen Siebert and Maurice Meilleur report for Typographica. “Behind this name is a new API (application programming interface) for developers of apps in which text plays a critical role. Text Kit is built over Core Text, a sophisticated Unicode layout engine with a lot of power, the potential of which unfortunately hasn’t been very easy to tap in the past. But now, no one needs to struggle with it, because Text Kit is there to act as an interpreter.”

Siebert and Meilleur report, “The good news: this means the seamless integration of animation and text (the same principle behind UICollectionView and UITableView) for the first time ever in the history of iOS. The bad news: this means existing text-heavy apps will have to be redeveloped in order to support all these nifty new features. So what do all these new options mean, practically speaking? Developers can now drop long-form texts into reader-friendly, attractive layouts, with multiple columns and with image layers that aren’t chained to the grid.”

“But the hottest typographic number in iOS 7 is Dynamic Type,” Siebert and Meilleur report. “As far as I know, Apple’s mobile products will be the first electronic devices that will by default consider a quality of type that hasn’t been given so much attention since the age of letterpress. That’s right: we’re talking about an operating system, not an application or a layout job.”

“Thanks to Dynamic Type, users can now use sliders (with seven stops, found under Settings > General > Text Size) to adjust the text size in every app according to their own taste,” Siebert and Meilleur report. “And in case the largest size isn’t large enough, those with impaired vision can find under Settings > General > Accessibility a way to turn Dynamic Type up to its maximum size, options to “improve legibility” (which sets the text over a light gradient without changing its size), and optimize the background contrast.”

Read more in the full article here.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “Spark” for the heads up.]


  1. My wife works as a disability specialist at a private college. It used to be that the best assistive technology came as applications for windows, things like Dragon Dictate. But the tables have completely turned now, and her students with hearing or sight impairments – even dyslexia and physical impairments – much prefer Apple’s OS and particularly the apps available on iOS devices.

    1. I completely agree!

      My wife is a speech-langage pathologist who specializes in children with autism and autism-spectrum disorders. Five years go, assistive communication devices Windows-based “tablet” PCs that in some cases cost $5,000 and more.

      Now? iPad. Almost exclusively iPad. A $500-600 piece of light, well-designed hardware with amazing battery life, displacing solutions that cost five to ten times the price (and up).

      Just think: We didn’t even know the iPad existed just four years ago!

  2. A key point here is that this is built into the core OS and developers now have typography control they’ve never seen before. It’s not just for Accessibility.

  3. While other vendors slap features on top the OS, Apple creates new technologies to help prop up the foundation. It’s these under-the-hood details that separate Apple from every one else, in both hardware and software.

    1. Those who heatedly criticised the foolish choice of a too-thin typeface can smile now that Apple have relented on that point, and further have devised this marvellous new core competency in type. There is no rest for the wicked, however, as the namby-pamby icons and sissy colour pallette have yet to be replaced by more robust versions. Should Apple manage to overcome those deficiencies, disappointed fans have an even longer list of objections, an infinite one in fact.

      1. The bright colors are not a problem, only a matter of taste and culture. Western culture tends to favor darker drabber post apocalyptic coors while many other parts of the world such as Latin America and most of Asia likes righter colors.

        1. I don’t think it is the Western culture. It seems to me that it is mostly American culture. There is this extremely conservative visual sensibility in America that is reflected in a very staid, traditionalist industrial design in all major consumer products. Probably the most obvious example is American auto industry, with car designs that follow extremely orthodox, traditional, conservative look (just look at Buick, Cadillac or Chevrolet). Compare those to Renault, Peugeot, Citroën, or Fiat, Lancia, Alfa Romeo, and you’ll notice how non-American (and particularly European) industrial designers aren’t afraid to experiment radically and showcase bold, modern look.

          Apple tends to push that design envelope, which explains such passionate following. Perhaps the fact that Jony Ive is British has something to do with it…

      2. If your only complaint is the default wallpaper and the icons on a bunch of built-in apps, then change the wallpaper and hide the unsightly apps in a folder on screen 2 and be happy.

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