2015 is apparently the year of the Internet of Things – including wearables and in-car displays – and new tech from Monotype aims to allow designers to make them easier to read.
This year's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas is full of Things. These Things are relatively-low-powered devices that collect or give you information and pass that to and/or from other devices and services over the Internet: watches, medical and health devices, home and life -automation thingummies that connect everything in your life together for reasons both useful and meaningless. As well as existing independently, these devices are also integrated into other things you own from music systems to car information and music systems (the car industry calls this an infotainment system, for which it should go away and take a good hard look at itself).
The Things that make up this Internet of Things are generally based on cheap ARM chips. Type is usually displayed using bitmap fonts – fonts comprised of a fixed set of pixels – which are easy to process but aren't great for legibility (or looking good or fitting within brand guidelines) as they scale and kern poorly. These can also take up a lot of RAM if you want to support more than one language set – and these devices are short on RAM too.
Monotype's Spark platform aims to make type on such devices more elegant – and therefore more legible and the devices more useful. The platform has two separate incarnations that run on different levels of device – iType Spark and WorldType Shaper – plus a series of fonts that have been optimised for use on low-powered devices.
iType Spark is for the most basic of devices, rendering fonts in monochrome or 8-bit grayscale while taking up around 20k of RAM and 98k of code size on a typical ARM processor. WorldType Shaper adds support for more complex and bidirectional character sets such as Arabic, Devanagari and Thai. It takes up 5k of RAM and has a code size of 118k.
Both pieces of software offer much more than just elegant glyphs. Both include layout engines that allow text to be configured for the display size and other parameters. This includes automatically scaling to fit the length of text, and inserting an ellipsis to replace text when there's too much to be displayed.
As well Monotype Spark existing as an the off-the-shelf collection of software and fonts, Monotype is also offering a service to larger customers where it will tailor Spark to specific needs – for example in niche markets to create versions of brand fonts that are optimised for the platform. In a briefing, Monotype's director of product marketing David Gould mentioned that the company had already provided this service to a large carmaker in the US, but wouldn't name the brand, citing confidentiality agreements.
Both pieces of software within Spark are offered for free for development, with licencing required when a final product is released.