Apple WWDC 2015 video: “Introducing the New System Fonts” (i.e., San Francisco)

If you have any kind of Apple developer account, even the free one, you can watch Typedrawers’ own Antonio Cavedoni as he hosts his own keynotësque video about the San Francisco family of fonts for the Apple Watch and iOS 9 (indeed replacing Helvetica).

(General WWDC Videos page. San Francisco as iOS 9 default font was quite openly illustrated during the WWDC 2015 opening keynote.)


  • It's all simple stuff many off us have been doing for years without a format to support it, which was not fun, until now.
  • joeclarkjoeclark Posts: 122
    Are “many off us” (sic) the audience at WWDC? These programmers have been subtly reprogrammed in the ways of typography.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,744
    Another Unica.
    Not exactly “Think different”.

  • joeclarkjoeclark Posts: 122
    Well, Zapfino’s already built in.
  • joeclarkjoeclark Posts: 122
    In fact one does not need a developer account to watch WWDC videos (new for 2015?).
  • @Nick Shinn, I assume you skipped the parts in the video where they explain the considerations made for UI development and the special typographic features no other font currently has, or can apply on a system level.
  • Stephen ColesStephen Coles Posts: 901
    edited June 2015
    special typographic features no other font currently has

    This is isn’t quite true. You’re right that San Francisco has some features that are unique to OS fonts, but, as David says above, all the features are quite common in professional fonts used for editorial and corporate design work.

  • attarattar Posts: 209
    no other font currently has, or can apply on a system level

    The new system APIs are applicable to all fonts with compatible features out there…

  • edited June 2015
    Do these professional fonts also include:

    * Automatic switching between Display and Text at 20pt
    * Context-dependent automatic switching between glyphs (numerical shapes, for an example)
    * Automatic switching of vertically centered colon depending on the situation
    * Context-dependent automatic switching between monospaced and proportional numbers

    I understand that many of the typographic features San Francisco has are commonly created with ligatures, OpenType and MM features. To access and use these features, you’d have to turn them on in an Adobe program (such as InDesign). They are not automatically happening, dependent on context and environment.

    It is the collaboration with the system layers that make the difference, if I understand the demo code shown in the video correctly. You could argue that the code is not part of the typeface, but thinking of it as one unit is what sets the development apart.

    Also, do similar or the same features and OS-embedded behaviour sets apply with Fira, Segoe UI and Roboto?
  • Stephen ColesStephen Coles Posts: 901
    edited June 2015
    Most of the features you’re describing are part of the operating system, not the fonts. So, yes: as a whole, combined with the OS, the fonts could be considered unique.
    * Automatic switching of vertically centered colon depending on the situation

    This is a nifty use of the contextual alternate feature, which is common among OpenType fonts. I’m sure there are other vertically centered colon alts out there, but not many. They could also be applied to case-sensitive punctuation.

  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,744
    edited June 2015
    Henning, I’m referring to the shape of the glyphs, which are a Helvetica “revival”.

    The features you mention are not typeface-specific.

    I’ve included “automatic” features such as the ones you mention in many typefaces, activated by the <calt> feature and e.g. <case> effects that are automatically activated when selecting lining figures.
  • Henning: "Do these professional fonts also include:..."
    The clock colon is UI stuff, outside of the normal realm of Editorial or Corporate work of the past. And while a whole new era of colonization is born for some, some of us have had that glyph on our plates for UI work before.

    The rest, figures and size masters, are available, though specific breaks between size masters are up to the designer to recommend, and the user to choose ultimately when trying to achieve a particular weight balance between sizes of the same typeface. For a pair of environments, like Mac OS and iOS, the UI designer can fine tune this pretty well. 

    What happens when this generalizes to the web's plethora of devices, where the font's responsive requirements, just in weight, make families large, is everyone's next guess. But for now, IMHO, on the Mac, there is less room for improvement than on any other platform.

  • John HudsonJohn Hudson Posts: 2,176
    This is a great demonstration from Apple of what you can do with fonts if you totally control the environment in which they are used, and in that respect it is simply a continuation of Apple's ongoing demonstration of what you can do with any aspect of software if you totally control the environment. But in that same respect, it isn't new at all, but rather harks back to pre-DTP digital typography, when e.g. Linotype made Indic fonts, the software that drove them, and the machines on which they were used.
  • Interesting in this context, Oliver Reichenstein’s 2012 essay on Responsive Typography.

    The iA website uses a different font today (Nitti by Blue Monday), but at the time they were experimenting with their own font, “iABC Regular”.

    The basic idea of fonts adjusting to their environment is not that new, as we all know. In traditional tyopgraphy, typefaces were cut in different sizes and their anatomy was adjusted accordingly. Sometimes these changes were a natural result of the materials being used, like wood or lead — some features couldn’t be articulated well in such small sizes, or became softer from repeated use of the typeset.

    I think typography becoming more responsive to the application environment, the context in which it is being used, is increasingly important and there is still a lot to do in this field. So far our best tools and features we use today stem from technologies 10 years old or older, when there was no “retina display” in sight. Which isn’t a bad thing per se, but clinging to traditional paradigms can fog the view for new ideas. I would love if Apple took the introduction of San Francisco as a kiss of the Sleeping Beauty, and began to improve typography across the board.

    Look at iBooks, with too tight leading and questionable font choices, or the inconsistent rendering engines across the OS. I hope this is going to change with OS X El Capitan and iOS 9.
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