What Does HTML5 Mean for Font Lovers?

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Chris Roberts in Archive on June 6, 2010

Seems like all of the sudden the term “HTML5″ is everywhere. It must be incredibly irritating to highly technical people when civilians hijack and misuse their terms. HTML5 seems like it’s well on the way to “Web 2.0″ land. At the risk of further contributing to its over exposure, I’d like to hear and share some views concerning what HTML5 might mean for fonts and the people who love them.

First, a baseline definition from Wikipedia (where else?):

HTML5 is currently being developed as the next major revision of HTML (HyperText Markup Language), the core markup language of the World Wide Web. HTML5 is the proposed next standard for HTML 4.01, XHTML 1.0 and DOM Level 2 HTML. It aims to reduce the need for proprietary rich internet application (RIA) technologies such as Adobe Flash and Microsoft Silverlight. In common usage, HTML5 may also refer to the additional use of CSS3, as both technologies are under development in parallel. source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HTML5

That last line does a few things for me: 1) supports my observations that the term “HTML5″ has already achieved “common usage” (be very afraid), and 2) ropes in CSS3, which gives me my lead-in concerning font usage prospects. I’ll make a basic assumption here, which may be completely wrong (I’m sure someone out there will set me straight), that “Web fonts” will work where HTML5 is supported. CSS3 supports @font-face, which has now been adopted in every major browser, enabling foundries (like my employer, Monotype Imaging) to offer new services like Fonts.com Web Fonts. Combine my “HTML5 supports web fonts” assumption with the support being thrown behind the HTML5 movement by the likes of Apple and Google, and I am hopeful that the further extension of “real fonts” into rich media is set to accelerate. The reference to “real fonts” here is meaningful. I’m contrasting font formats like TTF, EOT, OTF and WOFF, which maintain the full typographic features of a font, to “derivative” formats like SVG and/or SWF. Conversion into “derivative” formats can represent a stumbling block for creative professionals who want to exercise the full capabilities of real fonts within rich media applications. When a real font is converted into one of these derivative formats, many valuable typographic features of the original font file are lost. For example, coded instruction that make the font look more legible at various point sizes when it is scaled up and down are lost (hinting). So, just how far can HTML5 be pushed as a replacement for proprietary rich media formats like Adobe Flash? Check out this demo from Sports Illustrated (Nice call out for “sophisticated typography” at 1:46.)

Last week, Jon von Tetzchner, Opera co-founder, suggested that HTML5 may represent a unified development environment for mobile applications. Considering that there are now reportedly over 4 billion mobile subscribers out there, I’m thinking this should be a good thing for creative professional who want to use “real fonts” in their mobile applications. What do you think?

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