Almost a year ago, Apple changed the OS X system font from Lucida Grande to Helvetica Neue–the same svelte font that had been used on the iPhone in varying capacities since the release of iOS 3. Now, 9to5Mac reports that it’s going to make another major change again, swapping Helvetica Neue for its homegrown San Francisco font in the latest versions of iOS and OS X.
San Francisco premiered on the Apple Watch as the first font Apple had designed in-house in almost 20 years. As we noted at the time, it was overbuilt for use on the Apple Watch alone, with 23 variations ready for use in various contexts. Its naming was significant, too. Early Apple fonts were all named after U.S. cities. And in this sense, “San Francisco” marked a major a return to form.
Furthermore, Helvetica Neue was never the ideal, universal font. While San Francisco scales down well to the Apple Watch’s 1.5-inch screen, all-star type designer Tobias Frere-Jones warned us last year that Helvetica Neue, while beloved, doesn’t scale up to the desktop:
Shapes like ‘C’ and ‘S’ curl back into themselves, leaving tight “apertures”—the channels of white between a letter’s interior and exterior. So each shape halts the eye again and again, rather than ushering it along the line. The lowercase ‘e,’ the most common letter in English and many other languages, takes an especially unobliging form. These and other letters can be a pixel away from being some other letter, and we’re left to deal with flickers of doubt as we read.
Given that iOS and OSX are seemingly destined to merge as Apple builds its products out as one long continuum of screen sizes, it makes little sense, both from a brand and functional perspective, for Apple to be using Helvetica Neue for some of their software and San Francisco for other. Even Google has its own universal font. That said, why Apple decided to make so many aggressive typographical shifts to its products in so little time is anyone’s guess.