Apple Changes OS X's Main Font For The First Time Ever

Following the lead of iOS, Apple's desktop operating system says goodbye to Lucida Grande, and hello to Helvetica Neue.

Since the introduction of OS X in 2001, Lucida Grande has served as its main system font. But after taking the wraps off OS X 10.10, aka Yosemite at today's Worldwide Developers Conference, it looks like the operating system's new system font is going to be Helvetica Neue.

Apple didn't call out the font by name, but it bears very close resemblance to what's used in iOS 7, and that's Helvetica Neue.

The move isn't completely surprising. Helvetica Neue has served as the main iOS font since last year, and one of the main objectives of the latest OS X update is to bring it closer in line with Apple's mobile platform, both functionally and visually.

What does this mean? A lot of the basic areas where you interact with OS X—folders, windows, menu bars, etc.—will look a little different. And how does this new font work in OS X? We still haven't seen enough of the new OS in action to say, but it's worth noting that Helvetica Neue's implementation in iOS 7 has drawn mixed reactions (namely, the font can be hard to read on the smaller iPhone screen).

Read more on Apple's WWDC keynote.

[Image: Mac screen via bloomua / Shutterstock]

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  • Khrev Kingsley

    Not entirely sure why the company is taking so long to design Apple Sans, or if they shelved the idea, why. Hopefully Helveltica Neue is a stop-gap measure that they are using because it's cheap to license until they can deploy Apple Sans. It definitely has major issues with readability at small sizes that cannot be resolved by higher resolution displays. It is the letterforms themselves that cause these issues.

  • I was infatuated with Helvetica Neue in 2009. Its basic utility, however, makes it a little over used these days, so we might as well go all the way. Maybe designers will be challenged to seek out a good alternative to it. I was once infatuated with Archer, too—at least they're not using that font.

  • Helvetica Neue can work well on retina screens, where smaller shapes can still remain legible. Maybe this heralds the end of non-retina screens produced at Apple? That would imply the Air, the iMac and the Thunderbolt Display would need updated. We already know that Apple needs to produce a 4k display for the Mac Pro, so I expected a Retina replacement for the Thunderbolt this year (and it makes sense that the iMac would use the same).

  • Khrev Kingsley

    Even on a higher resolution display, readability of a word like milliliter at a small points size in Helvetica Neue can be next to impossible, because of the letterforms themselves. There's just not enough of a distinction between the i, I, l, L, letterforms.

  • $137B in cash and they can't be bothered to develop a font from scratch for their OS...

    But they'll spend $3B on Beats by Dre...

    I like Helvetica, but it was never developed for the digital age, and is heavily overused by designers (I should know I am one and guilty of using it from time to time).

    At least Microsoft attempted to create fonts for the digital age (Calibri and Cambria).

  • Yeah man, who told these guys Helvetica Neue was in any way intended for < 150 dpi screens? Also, who told them it would be effective on even retina screens? Helvetica works great as a display font and small blocks of text, but its need of white real estate for good legibility is far from optimal for a user interface. With so many great Helvetica-based, more humanist typefaces, Jony Ive should've been to one of them Typography 101 classes Steve Jobs famously attended as a drop-out to meet a couple of good alternatives (Avenir being the other miscast on their collection nowadays — great font on paper for information graphics, e.g., it's too scattered when used in such dynamic arrangements as the ones found in UI)… Hell, Lucida Grande was a great compromise before this. I know it looks poor on retina screens but it was closer to what a screen Ui font needs to be. Helvetica's metrics are just not for this, imo.

  • John Keogh

    It is surprising because of its illegibility as a screen font, especially at small sizes where it is already difficult to recognize i l and I. In neue they look more alike: even regular Helvetica would be a better choice. The closer kerning in neue is tiring for the eyes.

  • Federico Alessandri

    I think the result will be a diffuses largeness in the menu, helvetica has a different spacing than lucida!