San Francisco / Apple, 2014
With the announcement of the Apple Watch a few months ago, the type nerds among us noticed a serious new direction from Apple in terms of design & UI — a brand new typeface. It wasn’t Myriad (their corporate face since around 2000) or Helvetica (used throughout iOS since the iPhone launched in ’07). It looked a lot like the German classic DIN, but softer and friendlier. I quite liked it.
A few days ago they released WatchKit so that developers can start to prepare apps for when the watch is released early next year. Part of that kit contains a font called San Francisco, which comes in two versions, Display and Text, and plenty of weights per version. There are 23 variations in total. You can download them all here.
I have to credit Apple for finally doing what so many designers have called for in recent years – spending the time and effort to create a decent typeface, and one they can call their own. It’s obvious they’ve put a lot of effort into this one, adjusting the spacing as the font decreases in size, to maximise legibility on that tiny watch screen. It always bugged me that the iPhone and iOS never got the same treatment. I mean, Helvetica is fine, but it was designed in the 50s, It was never meant to be seen at just a few pixels tall.
I’m interested to see where they go from here. My main concern is that they just switched the system font in OS X to Helvetica, after 10+ years of Lucida Grande. I get that it brings the Mac more in-line with iOS, but it really doesn’t work that well at the tiny sizes a desktop OS demands, especially on a non-retina screen. With the release of San Francisco, they might find themselves in a bit of a muddle. 3 typefaces is definitely too many (and that’s without counting VAG which they still use on Mac keyboards…)
If it were up to me, I’d make sure San Francisco was absolutely perfect, then roll it out as the system font for all products – Watch, iOS, and Mac. (It’s worth noting that somebody’s already worked out how to replace Helvetica with SF on Yosemite). Then for branding and corporate communications, I’d definitely bin Myriad, it’s looking more tired than ever. Maybe SF could be the corporate face as well, although something with a slightly different flavour might complement it. Re-branding Apple, now there’s a fun project for my spare time.
As a side note, many have already pointed out that Apple released a typeface called San Francisco some 30 years ago. It was pretty cool.