Article: Farewell, Chicago

by on June 30, 2005

On Tuesday, Apple introduced new repackaged iPods and made a huge deal out of them. Why shouldn’t they? All regular-sized iPods now feature color displays, photo capabilities, and nicer-looking menus. What else went with the black and white screen? A historical font.

Espy Sans (Left), Chicago (Top), Myriad (Bottom)

The font on all regular-sized monochrome iPods was called Chicago. This font was the font of the original Macintosh. From there, it was used all the way up until Mac OS 9 (although after 8.0, you have to choose it as an option). By using that font on iPods, there has always been some sort of connection with the device and Macs, even though more Windows users use them currently. The iPod minis used Espy Sans, a font that was used as a secondary font back in the System 7 days (it was supposed to be the system font for what never became OS 8). The current color iPods use Myriad, the same font found on Apple’s advertisements and other corporate stuff.

“So what?” you say. Well, this is what puzzles me. See, Apple has never used its corporate fonts for anything interface-related. The font that was used back in the ’70s and early ’80s, Motter Tektura, was never worked into the Apple ][s, mainly because they didn’t have the ability to deal with fonts until that font was retired from use. Apple then used a customized version of Garamond for their “image”, and used it up until first iPods. Most people are familiar with it, since it stuck for quite awhile, but the only time it appeared on a computer screen was the occasional about box or a splash screen. Currently, Apple uses a custom form of Myriad, and Lucida Grande is what is used almost exclusively on OS X. Also, if you’re reading this site on a Mac, it’s probably the font for everything on here.

Logically, Lucida Grande should be the current iPod font, not Myriad, but who knows what Apple is doing? They’ve made life difficult for anyone trying to distinguish one model from another on paper since nobody is sure if these updates are the “fifth generation” models or not (I vote not). Can iPod photos be lumped in there, too? Which U2 iPod are you talking about? You see the dilemma.

Furthermore, this latest iPod update leaves third generation iPod users out in the cold for many specific podcasting features, even though many of those iPods are less than 2 years old (some less than a year), while owners of even the oldest iPod minis were treated to the newest, up-to-date features. What gives?

I see the lack of anything more than $400 in the iPod family a clue that something fancier will come out. Apple needs to think fast, since locking people out of little features will most likely not make anyone want to go get a new iPod, but just annoyed.

You can read more about Apple’s fonts on Wikipedia or at your local library.

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