Font advice for iPhone (instead of Helvetica/Helvetica Neue)

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robster's picture
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Joined: 8 Apr 2008 - 12:48pm
Font advice for iPhone (instead of Helvetica/Helvetica Neue)
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The iPhone OS uses Helvetica/Helvetica Neue (depending on the phone model and its screen resolution).

While most tech blogs praise the decision, I can only remember negative comments from type setters regarding Helvetica's readability in print, compared to Akzidenz Grotesk or other relatives, because the letters look so much alike. This feature was usually regarded as suitable for logos, not for continuous text. Does it work better for longer texts on screen than in print?

Is there a font that would be more suitable for either one of the two iPhone screens than Helvetica/Helvetica Neue? Maybe just for smaller text (10-12 pixel height on an older iPhone screen)? Has anyone experimented with readability on the devices?

Thanks for your opinion and avice!

Thomas W Phinney's picture
Joined: 3 Sep 2002 - 11:00am
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> Does it work better for longer texts on screen than in print?

No. In fact, it works badly even for very short amounts of text at small sizes. Let us say for example that you want to read an address off the screen. The high confusability of the numbers 3689 is a real problem.

> Is there a font that would be more suitable for either one of the two iPhone screens than Helvetica/Helvetica Neue?

There are many such fonts. You could pick nearly any humanist sans, including Lucida Sans / Lucida Grande (one of Apple's system fonts), or Myriad (Apple's corporate identity typeface). At lower resolution such as the older iPhones (pre-Retina) having vertically/horizontally cut terminals or close to it would be a bonus, so something more like Segoe (Microsoft's UI typeface) or Frutiger might be best. Heck, my own Hypatia Sans would be an improvement over Helvetica.

> Has anyone experimented with readability on the devices?

Yes, I spend about 8 hours messing with it after I jailbroke my iPhone 3G (which I did primarily for this reason), and will probably jailbreak my iPhone 4 primarily because of this issue.

Cheers,

T

robster's picture
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Joined: 8 Apr 2008 - 12:48pm
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Thank you very much, best reason to jailbreak an iPhone.

I just did a comparison with a screen mockup in Ps and put it on an iPod 3G, one time using Helvetica and one time Frutiger.

While the letter shapes and the resulting words are a lot more distinct with Frutiger, the counters become a bit too small and a bit too blurry since the letters don't fit the pixel grid as well as the fency Helvetica. I'll try some more.

bahram kaminas's picture
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Joined: 7 Nov 2010 - 1:52am
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I have used National for a design I made and it is very clear at small sizes.

robster's picture
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Joined: 8 Apr 2008 - 12:48pm
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Is "National" the whole name? By who? Thank you.

bahram kaminas's picture
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Joined: 7 Nov 2010 - 1:52am
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Are you willing to buy a new font to use for your iphone?
Yes, it is the whole name of the font. As to who its made by I am unsure.
You could also try Sabon as the font, Jan Tschichold's font. It is also a font that I believe is legible at small font sizes.

bahram kaminas's picture
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robster's picture
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I'm not looking for a replacement of the iOS system font, but for a font that app developers can use, who care more about readability than consistency with the system.

National seems worth a try but I won't buy it to find out that it doesn't suit my needs.

I'd prefer a sans.

bahram kaminas's picture
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Joined: 7 Nov 2010 - 1:52am
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I have national font, if you want you can type something and I can show you it in different point sizes.
Whats the difference between a replacement font for the iOS and a font that app developers can use? The way I understood the original post, was that you were looking for a font that's more legible than the current one on your iphone.
I may be wrong but National is a sanserif font face. Did you mistake and mean to write a serif font face?

robster's picture
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Joined: 8 Apr 2008 - 12:48pm
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RE: I have national font, if you want you can type something and I can show you it in different point sizes.
– Great, I'll pm you.

RE: Whats the difference between a replacement font for the iOS and a font that app developers can use?
– Nothing really, I'm just saying that I'm not trying to hack and replace the system font, just looking for alternatives for apps.

RE: Did you mistake and mean to write a serif font face?
– I was referring to Sabon, please excuse the ambiguity.

robster's picture
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Joined: 8 Apr 2008 - 12:48pm
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At the same pixel height, most fonts look much smaller than Helvetica:

Maybe that’s the reason for Apple’s decision.

Is there a humanist sans with big white space/counters? Am I asking for the wrong attributes?

bahram kaminas's picture
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Joined: 7 Nov 2010 - 1:52am
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Off-topic how do I check PM's?

I think the large part of choosing helvetica as the font is just because its helvetica.

David Berlow's picture
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Joined: 19 Jul 2004 - 6:31pm
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>Is there a humanist sans with big white space/counters?

Yes, but all I think you mean at these resolutions by 'humanist' is that there is contrast between thick and thin stems.

>Am I asking for the wrong attributes?

I think you are asking for the right attributes. Verdana, Apres RE, Antenna RE Benton Modern RE, are all bigger than Helvetica at the same size. All can also be found at Webtype.com.

robster's picture
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Joined: 8 Apr 2008 - 12:48pm
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That are some very good suggestions thank you! Is that an uterus in your avatar?

David Berlow's picture
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Joined: 19 Jul 2004 - 6:31pm
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>Is that an uterus in your avatar?

Lol! nah, it's a T, as in Tuterus.

Thomas W Phinney's picture
Joined: 3 Sep 2002 - 11:00am
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> Yes, but all I think you mean at these resolutions by 'humanist' is that there is contrast between thick and thin stems.

I tend to think that the open apertures of letters such as ces was an important part of legibility of humanist sans serifs, even at these sizes/resolutions.

Cheers,

T

Briän M Zick's picture
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Joined: 8 Nov 2008 - 9:38pm
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Cantarell is extremely clear on tiny screens and at smaller sizes. It's quite easy on the eyes.

http://code.google.com/webfonts/family?family=Cantarell&subset=latin