The Null Device

Why the iPad's typography sucks

Typography/design blogger Stephen Coles offers a typographically-oriented critique of Apple's iPad interface, and it doesn't come off well. Apple, it seems, are guilty of privileging style over substance, aiming to make the iPad look stylish rather than be legible. As an e-book reader, it fails, with the iBooks application falling for that most vulgar of desktop-publishing tricks and forcibly full-justifying all text, despite research showing that ragged-right margins are actually more legible. iBooks also falls down on typeface choice; the user has a choice of reading books in one of five typefaces, which range from middling to poor for reading large quantities of text. Support for custom fonts on the iPad is poor all round; there is no option to embed fonts in e-books, and the version of Mobile Safari supplied doesn't have up-to-date @font-face embedding support.

And then there's the famously Helvetica-fetishising UI, whose typographical choice is seemingly more designed to exude mid-20th-century modernist chic and pander to the owner's self-image as a stylishly cool individual, rather than aiming for anything as gauchely utilitarian as legibility. While Helvetica is good for print and signage, or, indeed, larger sizes on the screen, there are more legible typefaces for use on computer screens (the Lucida family, shipped with Apple's own OSX, is a case in point). The Helveticolatry, though, pales into insignificance next to the Notes application's cutesy felt-marker typeface, which, whilst less cringeworthy than Comic Sans, is still somewhat ridiculous; all of a sudden, High Modernist chic gives way to kitsch.

Bonus link: Stephen Coles with a list of alternatives to Helvetica. (Note the complete absence of Arial in this list; it's a list of actual typefaces of typographical merit.)

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