Why doesn't Apple create a custom font for its OS UIs?

over 9 years ago from , Product Designer

Windows: Segoe UI Android: Roboto Sans Chrome OS: Noto Sans Firefox OS: Fira Sans Ubuntu: Ubuntu iOS and OS X: Helvetica Neue?

all major operating systems are using a UI font unique to their platform. seems strange to me that Apple, a company obsessed with perfection and design details, would not do the same. especially since Helvetica Neue is incredible generic (and a crap UI font).

anyways, not intending to troll. just wondering why Apple hasn't created a custom font for its OS UIs.


  • Manik RatheeManik Rathee, over 9 years ago (edited over 9 years ago )

    It's my understanding that they have been working on one (Apple Sans) for a few years now.

    I would bet that it's just not ready for prime-time yet.

    Edit: fixed typos

    13 points
  • Elliot JacksonElliot Jackson, over 9 years ago

    OS X Yosemite doesn't actually use the standard Helvetica Neue, they've tweaked it for use in the UI. It's defined in the OS as:

    sysFont: NSFont = { font = HelveticaNeueDeskInterface-Regular, pointSize = 13.00 }

    Helvetica Neue is incredible generic (and a crap UI font).

    For those interested, I wrote briefly about this yesterday.

    7 points
  • Nathan NNathan N, over 9 years ago (edited over 9 years ago )

    In order to make a corporate font like 'Apple Sans' it would take at least a few years to complete. There are a great many glyphs a font like this would need to support; currency, ligatures, small caps, super/sub script, oldstyle figures, alternates etc. Not to mention that the font should "feel" the same across the Latin, Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Cyrillic alphabets.

    6 points
    • Blake PerdueBlake Perdue, over 9 years ago

      I know nothing of creating fonts, but this seems false to me. Apple is one of the largest companies in the world. I would think if they wanted a custom font they could easily get one created during one of these large, yearly OS version development cycles.

      I can't imagine that type foundries, who are much more resource constrained than Apple, spend years developing each and every font family they release. Please correct me if I'm wrong.

      1 point
  • Robert PadburyRobert Padbury, over 9 years ago (edited over 9 years ago )

    For anyone who thinks that Helvetica is a bad choice, what typeface would you propose for iOS + OS X ?

    Criteria: The typeface would have to be appropriate to work with all kinds of apps (reminders, mail, settings, notifications, etc), it would have to still feel like Apple, and would be something timeless (so, something that doesn't feel trendy)

    Bonus: Mock it up and explain why your chosen typeface is better.

    2 points
  • Scott HurffScott Hurff, over 9 years ago

    More hints from Craig Federighi:

    "To those who are wondering, this is not quite Myriad. #ios8 #wwdc2014 pic.twitter.com/MyB0dw38B0"


    2 points
  • Tosin AfolabiTosin Afolabi, over 9 years ago


    1 point
  • Oz PinhasOz Pinhas, over 9 years ago

    Helvetica Neue feels so much like those old Windows machines and crappy-type websites using Arial (Yep, Arial was designed to mimic Helvetica but that's exactly the problem) - It just feels like a placeholder type waiting to be replaced with something with more personality.

    Side question, I wonder how Apple's managed to fork Helvetica and redistribute it across their devices.. It's something you can't do with a normal license, and even if they did pay extra to do that - wouldn't that affect the type's reputation? I mean, they can't go around saying they're using type X since they've altered it.

    1 point
  • Diego LafuenteDiego Lafuente, over 9 years ago

    I think they forgot. You know, I don't think a typography can be designed in "years". 1 year work for a good team shall be acceptable, "years" seems like wasting time.

    1 point
    • Manik RatheeManik Rathee, over 9 years ago

      Respectfully disagree.

      From H&FJ:

      5 points
      • Diego LafuenteDiego Lafuente, over 9 years ago (edited over 9 years ago )

        Oh, yes. You can endeavor to do it 10 or 20 years just to show some kind of obsession for uniqueness and perfection, but the true reality of many works is, with a good fucking (pardon my french) team it can be done well in less than a year. There's hundreds of examples in the adversiting world and in the tech world, one good example is Droid family or the Roboto Family (16 fonts) made less than 1 year.

        I bet Apple can boost their Apple Sans and make it in a year with a good screen font like Google did.

        3 points
        • Sam GarsonSam Garson, over 9 years ago

          Sorry mate but I also disagree.

          I don't think H&FJ spent years on their families just to 'show obsession for uniqueness and perfection', I think it's because they are obsessed about uniqueness and perfection.

          Considering Apple's similar obsession, and the time iPhone was in the works, I would imagine that designing a font for use on desktop mobile and mobile operating system (which has incredible complexity) and web and print would take a long, long time.

          Just because there are examples of it being done quicker, doesn't mean it has to be done quicker.

          Apps have been made in a day—does that mean all apps should be made in a day?

          0 points
          • Diego LafuenteDiego Lafuente, over 9 years ago

            I agree good work must take the time that it is but with some limits. I've read Steve Jobs' book and I know the iPhone story as well: there were deadlines, many of them. They've worked many iterations and prototypes, yup, but the thing had to come out because losing the opportunity (android was an strong rumor they had).

            Fonts aren't hardware. They can be upgraded, updated overtime in a transparent way. And since the retina era is about to come fonts will not have the same legibility/drawng problems we face today. I think they can develop (maybe they're already with Apple Sans project).

            Heck, can't be acceptable that a company like Apple still lacks proper font identity. Microsoft has it. Google has it. GNU/Linux Ubuntu has it.

            I think is not in their inbox priority.

            0 points
            • Sam GarsonSam Garson, over 9 years ago

              We're having different discussions.

              Yeah I'd agree that it's probably not high on their priority list, but that's different from saying 'I see no reason they haven't got it done, good fonts don't take very long to create'.

              Secondly, they do have their own font identity. Just because it was designed by an agency out of Apple's office (Linotype) doesn't mean it isn't valid as part of the brand identity...

              1 point
  • Jim Silverman, over 9 years ago

    uh. markdown fail with that list in the OP.

    1 point
  • Ryhan HassanRyhan Hassan, over 9 years ago

    They did with the original Macintosh ;)

    Monaco, Chicago, and Geneva (among many others) were designed by Susan Kare.

    0 points
  • Drew PickardDrew Pickard, over 9 years ago

    As an aside - Myriad looks positively ridiculous on a Retina 15" MBP. It looks huge, thick, fat and goofy.

    My guess: Apple is preparing to go all Retina in the next 2-3 years. They've never been shy about making big changes ahead of a something you don't see coming until it's arrived.

    0 points