The Secret of the Apple’s New San Francisco Fonts

iOS 9 is now publicly released. It’s a subtle change but the system fonts of iOS 9 are now changed to the Apple’s new San Francisco fonts, replacing the previous Helvetica Neue.

Helvetica (left), San Francisco (right)

Helvetica (left), San Francisco (right)

San Francisco fonts have been used in Apple Watch already, and San Francisco is now the standard font unifying the Apple platform: Apple Watch, iPhone, iPad and Mac.


Apple has been using Helvetica as the system fonts for iOS since the first iPhone, and they also switched the fonts from Lucida Grande to Helvetica for Mac OS X since 10.10 Yosemite. Why did Apple decide to ditch Helvetica, which is the most famous and loved font in the world?



Helvetica is weak in small sizes

It is said that Helvetica is not suited for texts in small sizes. When the system fonts for Mac OS X Yosemite are changed to Helvetica, many designers claimed that Helvetica is not appropriate one.


Helvetica sucks” by Erik Spiekermann

You can see the low legibility of Helvetica if you type texts in a small size and make them blur. Some texts become blended and hard to decipher. They say that Apple developed San Francisco fonts in order to make small size texts in Apple Watch more legible.


The letters become blended in small size texts

But nowadays, smart devices have more resolution than paper printing, and texts in iPhone are not always as small as in Apple Watch. Why Apple changed the system fonts for iOS and Mac OS X, not only for Apple Watch?


San Francisco is not a single font

San Francisco fonts have lots of features to be highly legible. In fact, the San Francisco fonts for Apple Watch and for iOS/Mac are not same.

The font family named “SF” is used for iOS/Mac and “SF Compact” is for Apple Watch. You can see the difference in round shaped letters like ‘o’, ‘e’. SF compact has rather flat vertical lines than that of SF.


SF and SF Compact