When iBooks was updated during the second week of December 2011, it removed some of the existing typefaces and added some more. It was a welcome move, if you were to go by some reviews from type experts. I didn’t know what to make of it. I was fine with the old version; I hadn’t changed the default or even explored the options.
After reading some of these reviews, I decided to conduct a small experiment. I will change the options and read for some pages - all the while consciously noticing how my reading is affected. I don’t have any expertise in type, so I decided to go with how I felt. There were four new typefaces: three serifs (Athelas, Charter, Iowan) and one sans-serif (Seravek).
With Athelas, as I am reading, my eyes would wander fast to the next line even if I haven’t completed read the current line. Sometimes I would have read the lines without really thinking about what I had read. Also, text looked a little cramped up and somewhat too business-like.
Charter was better. But even this suffered from the problem wherein I would sometimes read the lines without really thinking.
Then came Iowan, my favourite. It looked great. It was comfortable to read. It was perfect for long form reading. It didn’t suffer from the problems the above typefaces did. I have been using Iowan for months now, and still feel it is the best. I tried using Athelas and Charter in between, but always came back.
Here’s a sample page with Iowan (unfortunately, the image is stretched):
Seravek was good, but I prefer serif typeface for long form reading. Among the older typefaces, Palatino was good. If Iowan weren’t there, Palatino would be my choice.
But Iowan is no magic pill. A major lesson learnt is that choosing a good typeface depends on the task at hand. What is good on high resolution screens isn’t necessarily good on low resolution ones. What is good in digital form isn’t necessarily good on print. A good typeface for long form reading isn’t necessarily good on bill boards. Also, it is very subjective to call a typeface good. The important thing to learn here is that typeface matters, and you should choose the right one depending on your task.