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What font do you want in your handset?

Posted: 21 May 2009 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:handset font? smart phone? software?

First, it was ring tones. Next came camera phones. Then, video arrivedclips, streaming and mobile TV broadcasts. Each escalation of feature creep was supposed to define the next generation of mobile handsets and differentiate one cellphone from another.

Now, according to some experts, the next big thing on your handset screen is printed text. But not just any text. A multitude of typeface fonts are said by some to be the new battleground for mobile handset applications.

At least one company, Monotype Imaging is banking on the premise. Monotype rolled out a mobile font download application called "FlipFont" that allows consumers to license typefaces from the company's mobile e-commerce Website.

The company claims it technology lets users switch out fonts on their phone's user interface, menus and a variety of applications. This is accomplished by installing a FlipFont typeface and overriding the phone's factory-installed, default fonts.

Flipping fonts on mobile phones is easier said than done, however. "It's because mobile handsets are incredibly fragmented," said Satoshi Asari, director of product marketing at Monotype Imaging. "All mobile platforms deal with fonts in different ways."

Compounding the problem further is the fact that current mobile services like Apple's App Store are expected to deal with hundreds of different applications. Ensuring that flipping fonts doesn't foul up a phone's whole font structure for various applications is a huge issue.

Anyone who has fiddled with fonts on different operating systems has likely suffered the annoyance of missing characters. When a font doesn't contain a character, for example, a small, unhelpful square represents the missing character.

Monotype Imaging claims their font engine prevents this from happening.

Choice of fonts
Most current handsets use bitmap fonts. Bitmap fonts are stored as individual characters by individual pixels, creating a "picture" of each character. The problem is that the bitmap font only works with the font sizes for which it was specifically designed.

It wasn't until Apple's iPhone and other smart phones that scalable fonts first appeared on handsets. Scalable fonts store individual characters in what is called a vector format. The scalable font can be scaled to any font size without loss of quality in either Apple- or PC-based devices.

Apple's iPhone benefits from using scalable fonts since it provides a significant improvement in the "look and feel" of text displayed on its screen. "iPhones, new Research In Motion's devices and HTC's smart phones are pushing the trend toward offering native support for scalable fonts," said Asari.

Monotype is leveraging the scalable font trend in the development of its FlipFont software application.

A total of 19 typefaces will become available for consumers to license and download, with selections ranging from distinctive designs like Musclehead to casual fonts like Zapf Chancery.

Many mobile phone users read and write text on their handsets. Increasingly, many expect to be able to select a font on a mobile device as they would on their computer. Monotype Imaging believes that fontslike ring tones before them will play a growing role in mobile data services.

According to an industry survey published earlier this year by the Nielsen Co., European and United States consumers are increasing their use of mobile data services. Users can change fonts on a handset now, but have to follow complicated instructions available on the Internet, said Asari.

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