What the iPad is Missing (No, it’s not a Camera)

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News | Stephen Coles | April 8, 2010

I’m not an iPad naysayer. I forked over $700 on the first day of pre-ordering and my iPad hasn’t left my side, day or night, since it arrived on Monday. I’m with those who see the device and its new approach to computing as an exciting step forward, especially for media delivery. The possibilities for reviving the magazine and newspaper industries are exciting and real.

Yet it’s exactly that part of media consumption, reading, that reveals what’s missing on the iPad: good typography.

Signs that type took a backseat in the iPad’s development were clear back in January when Steve Jobs demoed the device, revealing just four uninspired and uninformed font options in iBooks. Apple also went with full justification without hyphenation, learning nothing from the Kindle’s spacing woes. These decisions were small or unnoticeable to the millions of future iPad buyers watching the announcement. But they stuck out like a sore thumb to typographers, whose job it is to make small, unnoticeable decisions that make text easier and more enjoyable to read. For those of us who hoped that a device meant for reading would be designed for reading, with all the typographic details well-considered and implemented, the announcement was disappointing.

Disappointing, but not surprising. Apple has made some puzzling decisions over the last few years that leave one wondering if they really care about typography as much as they did in the 1980s when the Mac launched the desktop publishing revolution. As recently as 2005, Steve Jobs made typography a central theme of his commencement address to Stanford grads, but his actions as the almighty head of Apple haven’t followed suit.

Lucida GrandeThe string of odd missteps began with the release of Mac OS X. Amid a bunch bundled fonts, most of which are not worth mentioning, the system came with Lucida Grande, an excellent screen-optimized version of Kris Holmes’ Lucida Sans. The clean, readable face, contemporary but fairly neutral, was used throughout the OS X interface and embraced by web designers (along with its Windows equivalent Lucida Sans Unicode) as their go-to family for small text. Yet, to this day, there is no Lucida Grande italic. I can’t explain why, and neither has anyone at Apple. This is the short and simple reason why sites like Facebook don’t use italic. If you design with Lucida your options for emphasis and hierarchy are limited to size and weight. Meanwhile, Microsoft — the company that traditionally eats Apple’s dust in design — worked with some of the world’s best type designers to develop the ClearType fonts, six complete families designed specifically for the screen.

A lack of Lucida italic could be considered a mild irritant, but Apple’s typographic neglect in OS X ran deeper. The system came with a font manager that was, until recently, the least reliable software bundled with a Mac. Even now it has has a reputation that contradicts Apple’s high customer satisfaction. Tweets about “Font Book” are often accompanied with the words “sucks” and “hate”.

Then came the iPhone, its fantastic display with a high pixel-density enabled legible type at small sizes. But Apple essentially erased that potential by choosing Helvetica as the iPhone’s system font. Sure, Helvetica is a graphic designer’s favorite, but its closed forms and tight spacing hinder reading, especially when small. It was a classic style-over-substance decision. The even more egregious spit in the face of readability was forcing Marker Felt users of the Notes app. More often than not, Apple’s recent decisions about type either ignore its importance or value form over function.

The iPad represents a new opportunity to reverse this trend. A device designed for media consumption could validate Apple’s dedication to design by emphasizing design’s most basic element: typography. But so far, it flops. Here’s what’s missing:

Typography on iPad

1. Missing in iBooks: Ragged Right Alignment and Hyphenation
This is Typography 101. You don’t need to be a full-time glyph geek to know what full justification without hyphenation does to spacing and readability. Of course, resizable text can’t benefit from all the careful spacing and line break adjustments traditionally made by a book designer, but the least an automated system can do is prevent wordspace rivers wide enough to sail a tanker through. This was one of the more obvious ways in which Apple could have one-upped the Kindle and they dropped the ball.

Update, June 21: iBooks 1.1 was released today with an option to disable full justification. Strangely, it’s buried in the iPad’s global Settings where few users will see it or even realize it’s an option, but at least Apple is listening. Hyphenation would help prevent the more ragged margins, but that’s a much greater feat.

2. Missing in iBooks: Orphan/Widow Prevention, Proper Handling of Tables and Line Breaks
Liz Castro is documenting how iBooks potentially mangles tables, ignores page breaks, and mishandles text wrapping around images. It’s possible that some of these issues can be addressed by the ePub author, but it sounds like iBooks could be more intelligent with documents that weren’t designed to display in such a narrow column widths.

3. Missing in iBooks: “Embeddable” Fonts
one commenter rightly condemns:

The lack of support for embedded fonts is a catastrophic failure. It’s a massive black mark against Apple for anyone who’s interested in seeing publishers improve the standard of ePubs.

4. Missing in iBooks: Font Options that Work for Books
Typography on the iPadIf you’re not going to let the publisher/book designer select the book’s typeface — and Sam Wieck explains why that alone is wrought with problems — the user’s options better be good. Unfortunately Apple offers just five: Baskerville (Monotype), Cochin, Palatino, Times New Roman, and Verdana. Of these, I’d say Palatino is the only legitimate choice for reading a book on a screen. Some cuts of Baskerville work well in print, but its weight is far too uneven for text in pixels. Cochin reeks of a decision made by someone gawking at pretty letters rather than diving into pages of text. The web learned long ago that Times New Roman doesn’t work for text type on-screen. And Verdana? Maybe for an IKEA catalog…

What would I offer instead? Minion, FF Scala, Dante, Garamond have all proven themselves in print. And the more sturdy of these alternative typefaces for book design would perform better than Apple’s selection.

This is only conjecture, but it feels like Apple decided to save some cash on font licensing by relying on the same old Linotype fonts they’ve bundled with their machines for years. If that’s the case, why not go with Hoefler Text which is already installed on the iPad? And the strangest omission of them all: Georgia, the father of all screen serifs and far better than any of the iBooks options.

Unlike Apple, Amazon clearly did their research here. PMN Caecilia isn’t well known outside the typorati, but it’s one of the more readable typefaces ever designed and its low stroke contrast and slab serifs serve the Kindle very well.

Update, June 21: Today’s iBooks 1.1 release offers Georgia as an option. Hallelujah! The difference in reading experience between Georgia and the other fonts is stark. I don’t know why you’d want to read with anything else in that list, except perhaps Palatino.

Typography on iPad

5. Missing in iPhone/iPad OS: a Legible, Flexible UI Font
Helvetica wasn’t a failure on the iPhone because the display’s high pixel density kept the letterforms clear. But the PPI on the iPad is significantly lower. I haven’t seen much that borders on illegibility, but relying on Helv limits the range of font sizes an app developer can use. Go below 12px and things get muddy (the numbers at the bottom of this Calendar view, for example). Our friend Lucida, on the other hand, which shines at small sizes, isn’t included on the iPad.

6. Missing in Pages: Accessible Text Options
Typography on iPadI’m impressed with how easy it is to make a nice looking document in Pages. But you better like its templates and default styles, because customizing the type is a bit of a chore. Font selection is buried behind a few taps and a scroll, and changing the font size requires a tedious tap for each single point up or down. It’s all surprisingly un-Mac-like.

7. Missing in Mobile Safari: True @font-face Support
Contrary to some reports, the iPad does support CSS font linking via @font-face, but it’s limited to SVG. There are many reasons why SVG isn’t a legitimate font format — stability and selectability, for example — but the most important is that a majority of font makers have already settled on WOFF or services like Typekit as their format of choice. This blasts developers back to those dark ages (a few months ago) when there were very few professional fonts available for embedding. Typekit is working on a solution, but it’s not ready for prime time.

So, webfonts are out. Fortunately there’s a much longer list of fonts installed on the iPad compared to the iPhone/iPod Touch, but very few of them are very interesting or practical for modern web and app design.

Typography on iPad

8. Missing in Notes: Font Options
The Notes app on the iPad is still stuck in silly Marker Felt land!

We can only hope and pray to Lord Jobs that today’s iPhone OS 4.0 event will address some of these gaping holes. With so many manufacturers, publishers, designers, and developers following Apple’s lead, the state of typography in a world of digital media may depend on it.

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  1. I will waiting iPad 2.0 or 3.0 and I hope Apple give more better function, little bugs and of course camera ;)

    Posted by Jauhari on Apr. 8, 2010
  2. Thanks for the great post! It is interesting that Apple has missed these things. I especially find it weird that hyphenation is not included in iBooks. Things like this matter if you want to replace reading regular books. I am a little afraid that we are moving away from the quality real publishing gives us.

    Posted by Mikael Halén on Apr. 8, 2010
  3. IMO an iPad isn’t at all suited for ebooks. The dimensions for eReading are perfect, however the screen itself isn’t. Dedicated eReaders have E-ink powered displays, which have far more better resolution and is easier for the eye to read. I’m not even going into battery life and such when comparing the iPad and an eReader.

    Posted by Le Snoet on Apr. 8, 2010
  4. The biggest typography/usability blunder on iPad/Pod/Phone must be the ALL CAPS rendered keyboard. Having a dynamic rendered keyboard which switches between ALL CAPS / lower case, would be so much easier to understand.

    Posted by Easy on Apr. 8, 2010
  5. Great criticism of the font choices on the iPad.
    • SVG is not a good answer for web fonts.
    • Developers can embed fonts in their apps. Of course they only work in the app.
    • What about hinting? Screen res is great, but fonts still have uneven rendering (unpredictable bitmaps for each glyph) and uneven spacing particularly at small sizes. Apple has its own religion on auto-hinting, but it is WYSIWIG not size-based. (Bow to David Berlow.) Check out Georgia at 10px or smaller and you see the problem.

    Posted by Roger Black on Apr. 8, 2010
  6. Yeah, the preview videos already let us guess that typography wouldn’t be a matter obviously, and your post confirms it – for a design-savvy company Apple sure seems to be dropping the ball here. It’s almost weird that they invested so much love into UI-details yet mess up a small thing like integrating solid fonts into the system. If you want to do eBooks, you gotta have a high(er) res display and fonts that mimic the feeling of a real book. Sabon, Bembo, Garamond would be a good start (with SC and OSF), and as a whole the iPad could use something that looks/feels like a ScalaSans/Milo/Thesis. Even easier would be an option to just install a handful of your very own OTFs and bingo.
    And that pages-interface looks clumsy, to say the least. Here’s hoping that Apple will get their act together, stop focussing on marketing-events and come up with a better solution. If they want to become a hub for digital publishing, they simply WILL have to up the typographic options of the iPhone and iPad.

    Posted by HD Schellnack on Apr. 8, 2010
  7. Thank you for your insightful article. As a graphic designer, it was disappointing. I stopped trying to use the Kindle app on my iPhone because the rivers-of-white were killing me. I stopped using the Note app (downloaded one of the others) because of that inane Marker Felt.
    Could I tolerate a Microsoftesque approach to typography?

    Posted by Brad Cathey on Apr. 8, 2010
  8. You make some extremely valuable points here which I had not considered. I also hope that os 4.0 will address these issues, it’s one of the most important usability aspects. As for the felt marker font, whilst I understand the context Apple have chosen for their app, I personally consider it just as offensive as comic sans. Thanks for such a comprehensive analysis.

    Posted by Dan Davidson on Apr. 8, 2010
  9. Stephen,
    Great article. I’m also disturbed by the font “choices” on the iPad – and I’m not a glyph geek. Marker Felt grates on my nerves like fingernails on a blackboard. Your alternates are perfect: Georgia and Garamond are incredible, and Scala is one of the most beautiful fonts I own. I love it like ice cream.
    I surmised, as you did, that these horrible fonts were a cost decision – particularly when creating a sub-$500 device. Perhaps they were, or perhaps there was no decision at all. Maybe they just threw some fonts at it.
    But, how ’bout an app that lets us transfer our fonts to the damn thing so we (the Apple cheerleaders) don’t have to cringe every time we take a note? I’d pay a buck for that! Maybe two.
    If I could put Scala on my iPad… oh, the places I would go!

    Posted by Craig on Apr. 8, 2010
  10. Georgia is not include in iPad? I can’t believe

    Posted by Xavi on Apr. 8, 2010
  11. Xavi — Georgia is in the system and available to apps (Safari for instance) but it’s not an option in iBooks.

    Posted by Stephen Coles on Apr. 8, 2010
  12. Altho I agree totally with what you say about type, there are a few mitigating factors:
    – Jonathan Ives comes from design school, not publishing
    – many other Apple employees are young (i.e. not from publishing)
    – in the 1980s many senior Apple people came from publishing
    – Adobe, Linotype, Agfa etc were significant players in those days
    – you said it, Apple of old was about desktop publishing
    Today is very different:
    – 90 percent of websites and blogs have rubbish typography
    – 70 percent of newspapers have rubbish typography
    – 50 percent of magazines have rubbish typography
    So, in short, I’m not holding my breath. Even tho I think the losses you define are dramatic and extremely sad.

    Posted by brian on Apr. 8, 2010
  13. I totally agree… this is one of the many reasons I jailbroke my iPhone… custom fonts! I am planning on jailbreaking my iPad for the same reasons. I HATE markerfelt :)

    Posted by Niki Brown on Apr. 8, 2010
  14. An excellent post Stephen. I like the thoroughness of the list. As somebody who love type, these examples are a real disappointment. As somebody practicing interaction design and building digital things the iPad holds so much power.
    I truly hope that Apple will take the initiative. Until then it’s going to be up to designers/developers and type foundries to bring good type and superior experience to digital presentation.
    For example Eucalyptus on the iPhone sets justified text quite nicely, given that it’s justified and was reason enough for me to purchase the app. Embedding fonts in web pages will be key and even though the SVG in MobileSafari isn’t ideal it may brdige the gap for some time.
    I fear that Jobs’ obsession with a certain subset of typefaces has always limited Apple’s ability to truly lead in screen based typography, and it certainly is a problem for all designers and developers who are interested in creating our screen based future.

    Posted by Jon Whipple on Apr. 8, 2010
  15. I am not a font expert, so I had not delved into this. I am grateful for your investigation and post. (‘Ew!’ is right…)

    Posted by Guy At HockeyBias dot com on Apr. 8, 2010
  16. Excuse me, nor am I a typography expert. sheesh…

    Posted by Guy At HockeyBias dot com on Apr. 8, 2010
  17. Some very good points. I don’t own an iPad (and won’t, at least for a while) but when I saw those rivers in iBook during the iPad announcement, I almost cried. The whole iBook application seems pretty poorly considered (don’t even get me started in the archaicness of the “page turn” animation). If this is going to be the future of reading, they need to actually think about it, and not slap something together. The next version of the software better not even include the words “Times,” “New,” and “Roman”.

    Posted by Colin M. Ford on Apr. 8, 2010
  18. I still think iPad should have a web camera.

    Posted by uwspstar on Apr. 8, 2010
  19. Thanks for the insights. I found that if you start off typing in Notes in a different writing system (say, Traditional Chinese), and then switch back to the Roman alphabet, you get rid of Marker Felt. It’s definitely cumbersome, but it’s the only way to write to have notes that are easy to read.

    Posted by Dana on Apr. 8, 2010
  20. Knowing Steve’s obsession with typography, this will likely be fixed with a minor update pretty quickly.

    Posted by JG on Apr. 8, 2010
  21. All interesting points, although I doubt there’s going to be much in the way of new zingy fonts added to the iPad/iPhone OS, even for iBooks.

    Personally, I’d just be happy with a few changes you mentioned: give Mobile Safari the ability to handle more kinds of web fonts than SVG; propagate that ability to iBooks (and anything else using Mobile WebKit); and bring in a much better H&J algorithm. I’d really like to see the latter applied to browsers in general, though. Given how long TeX has been around, it’s not as if this isn’t a solved problem, and even a naive word processor style hyphenation routine would be better than what we have.

    As far as I can tell, the atrocious formatting of a lot of ePub books tends to be due to really lousy automatic conversion routines. I have O’Reilly’s “Cocoa and Objective C: Up and Running” as an ePub book in iBooks (purchased from O’Reilly’s own store, not Apple’s), and it’s a very good example of how nice the format can actually be if it’s used by someone who knows what they’re doing. It’s worth noting that the book also has ragged-right justification, not full justification.

    Posted by Watts on Apr. 8, 2010
  22. iBooks isn’t the only book reader on the iPad. There is also a free Kindle app. It doesn’t let you change fonts and justifies the text (without hyphenation), but it uses Georgia, which is a definite improvement over the font choices in iBooks. There are about a hundred times more books available, they cost less, and you can switch to another device (an actual Kindle or the iPhone app for example) and pick up right where you left off.

    Posted by Mark Simonson on Apr. 8, 2010
  23. The hideous Marker Felt actually prevents me from using Notes. I just can’t take myself seriously in that font. Ugh.
    Thanks for an insightful article. I hope typographers are howling loud enough for Apple to heed and change.

    Posted by Helen on Apr. 8, 2010
  24. I don’t know too much about the iPad, but… is there a pdf reader for the thing? Then why not have your ebooks in pdf? Because that way you have all the control over fonts and linebreaking and so on that you would like, no?

    Posted by Freek on Apr. 8, 2010
  25. I’m owner of a nook (and still waiting for the release of the iPad in Europe), and I’ve already wondered about the eBook standards.

    Why didn’t anybody come to the idea to use LaTeX as source for eBooks? Then it could be almost guaranteed that an eBook looks good on any device.

    Posted by ComSubVie on Apr. 8, 2010
  26. This looks horrible. Especially iBooks!

    No way I’m going back to PCs, but Apple has got to do SOMETHING!

    Where can I sign the petition? =/

    Posted by Henric on Apr. 8, 2010
  27. Great article, Stephen!
    For the publishing people who expect the iPad to be the saviour of their industry, there could be a rude awakening. Not that they care very much about typography, but they cannot afford to lose the look of their brands and have it replaced by generic and bad type. Seeing that we have only just made big steps towards decent type even on the web, Apple’s ignorance really hurts.

    Posted by erik spiekermann on Apr. 8, 2010
  28. Man, that iBooks app is indeed butt-ugly. I use Stanza on the iPhone; nothing beats reading in the dark, light green text on black background (thanks to being able to customize nearly everything). It’s like I am in the Matrix. You also get ragged-right with Stanza. iBooks looks so… gimmicky.
    Anyways, I heartily recommend jailbreaking this thing when stuff gets stable.

    Posted by David Boni on Apr. 8, 2010
  29. Didn’t Steve Jobs study calligraphy and typography in college? I though that was why the Mac had fonts.

    Posted by Kevin on Apr. 8, 2010
  30. Well done Stephen. I hope Apple is able to fix these things. Clearly it is their self interest to do so.

    Posted by Eben Sorkin on Apr. 8, 2010
  31. What’s unfortunate about the approach to typography on the iPad is that it seems to be based on the minimal standards of the web as opposed to the printed page.

    Posted by Daryl Woods on Apr. 8, 2010
  32. I couldn’t agree more. I, too, wish these had been addressed today, but it sounds like not a single one was. Kind of depressing coming from a man who claims to have been profoundly inspired by good typography when working on the original Mac.

    Posted by Raymond Brigleb on Apr. 8, 2010
  33. What a great, comprehensive look at the font situation on the iPad. I’m a huge fan of Typekit and use it on all my sites. Sad then to see on Saturday how my beloved fonts had disappeared. I really hope TK can figure out a workable solution, but more importantly I hope Apple reads this post and adjusts accordingly.

    Posted by Jim on Apr. 8, 2010
  34. Thanks for this post. Very helpful for potential iPad buyers.

    Posted by Chris Russell on Apr. 8, 2010
  35. Is there a pdf reader for the iPad that displays pages as images? That way you could create (or convert) books using LaTex, InDesign, Calibre, etc. and avoid these problems.

    Posted by Fred on Apr. 8, 2010
  36. Thanks for a great review – One reason I usually wait for version 2. . .As a former designer, these “flaws” would have driven me crazy if I had this version.

    Posted by Donna McGinnis on Apr. 8, 2010
  37. Not a chance that these issue would be fixed before long, and even then they would be shown as shiny new.

    Posted by dvhh on Apr. 8, 2010
  38. For those who asked, you can view PDFs on the iPad, just like you can on the iPhone/iPod touch. Apple doesn’t include a stand-alone PDF reader app, but you can view PDFs from Mobile Safari, as mail attachments, etc. There are also quite a few third party PDF reader apps already. The best so far seems to be GoodReader.

    Posted by Mark Simonson on Apr. 8, 2010
  39. I’ve to say that I’m a little disappointed that the iPad book offering is basically a remediated (print) book. I mean, we’ve got this interesting new device one of whose anticipated functions is to create a new format/venue for textual reading and the work included with it to demonstrate this point is an imitation of the old format/venue.
    Why not a reconceptualization of the print book on a par with the new device?

    Posted by Nipperkin on Apr. 8, 2010
  40. Agreement on all points, and a small hint to work around the hell of Marker Felt. This may work with other languages as well, but (at least on the iPhone) if you create a note and type even a single character in Japanese, the entire note is forced into some sans font that is, if not beautiful, far more legible than marker felt.
    So for any note document that I routinely edit, I make sure to at some point stuff a japanese character in there. For quick notes it isn’t practical of course.

    Posted by Seth on Apr. 8, 2010
  41. Ugh, this is just ridiculous – the word spacing in that sample from Winnie the Pooh is just embarrassing as well as painful to read. If Apple wants people to read iBooks, they’re going to have to actually make them legible and more desirable than their printed counterparts.
    [also, your numbering is out of order :) ]

    Posted by gillico on Apr. 8, 2010
  42. If you sync a note, it shows up in Mail.app on your Mac.
    There, you can change the font to something reasonable, and sync it back to your iPad.
    The new font is still there on your iPad.

    Posted by DavidPhillipOster on Apr. 8, 2010
  43. I did not expect something like this from Apple. Well it’s not going to affect my buying decision, but still… Like you said Stephen, many follow apple in digital media. They should pay more attention to responsible design. If they want to be an example and take lead? And I hate that Marker Felt!

    Posted by Mikko on Apr. 8, 2010
  44. Impressive review as it relates to us type-loving designers. The iPad holds great promise but these oversights in the debut version are disappointing. Hopefully, someone at Apple takes these eight items to their top developers’ meeting post-haste so they are addressed before the next release.

    Posted by Matthew on Apr. 9, 2010
  45. Just a quick question: I can think of reasons that make SVG fonts annoying, but I don’t understand from your write-up what your concerns are. You say “stability and selectability” — would you care to clarify?

    Posted by Robin Berjon on Apr. 9, 2010
  46. You took the words RIGHT out of my mouth. I had thought the same thing about the iPhone, except with the iPad it’s a whole new level of forgetting to re-look at their typography.
    Good suggestions btw.

    Posted by Ryan on Apr. 9, 2010
  47. Well said!
    I’d like to see Apple not only improve the typography on their various interfaces, but I’d also like them to put an emphasis on graphic design software that seems to be missing from their portfolio of pro apps. Maybe if they reinvented Illustrator, InDesign, Photoshop, Flash, etc, then a love of typography would flow back into their interfaces. Let’s get some Apple pro software for print and web designers and some better typographic standards!

    Posted by James Kurtz III on Apr. 9, 2010
  48. I agree with everything here except the Marker Felt hate. Sure, it’s juvenile, but the point of the Notebook app isn’t to produce beautiful documents, it’s to jot down quick notes. Furthermore, Marker Felt makes non-typography-geeks go “Ooh it’s like a real notebook!” These two things make me okay with Marker Felt for this one app.

    Posted by Jake Boxer on Apr. 9, 2010
  49. Thanks for taking the time to point these out. I especially apppreciate the mention of the Marker Felt boondoggle. I would really like to know how a designer at Apple could actually think this was a good font to use.
    The other subject that bothers me about what I’ve seen so far typographically on the iPad is the gratuitous use of leading/padding. This is something that Apple seems to have started with OSX and continues on their new devices. Take for example your last screen shot above. What’s with the leading on the 14 Note section on the left? Is all that space really needed? Does that amount of leading really help with legibility? Is this something that Apple encourages in their SDK?
    It will be interesting to see if this device that is touted by some as the future or at least the evolution of print will acquire more (any) typographic nuance.

    Posted by John on Apr. 9, 2010
  50. You should email this to steve jobs.

    Posted by dave on Apr. 9, 2010

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