Last week Apple released Mac OS X 10.10 Yosemite. While there’s plenty of iOS integration work, the most immediately obvious change is the appearance. New theme, new transparency, and new font. Yes, the font changed which typically isn’t a huge source of contention. This time around, the font isn’t quite as readable on non-Retina displays but looks great on Retina. My MacBook Pro is a late-2011 model so it doesn’t have Retina. Yes, it’s slightly fuzzier and less readable than fonts on Mavericks.
Some people on the Internet have been speculating this is Apple planning for the future when Retina is on all devices. They talk about how Apple is happy to design for the future like when they removed floppy drives, optical drives, iOS 7 thin fonts and lines, etc. Apple does tend to be ambitious when it comes to obsoleting hardware for the sake of functionality. In this instance though, I disagree.
In this case, I think they were trying to go for a fresh look which is closer to iOS. It has nothing to do with preparing for the future. They changed a font – they didn’t change the hardware or the icons. A simple preference could change it back so the concept of “designing for the future” seems off to me. Also, very few Apple computers on the market are Retina compatible. MacBook Pros and iMac are it. Apple’s flagship computer, the Mac Pro, won’t easily do Retina since Apple doesn’t have a Retina external monitor. The very popular MacBook Air doesn’t support Retina either. What percentage of Apple devices sold last year are Retina compatible? 40%? That’s a low number considering the adoption rate of Retina is going to be slow since it requires a costly hardware upgrade. I estimate it will be another 5 years until Retina is on a strong majority of Apple computers in use.
Helvetica’s use on the non-Retina display isn’t so bad for me. But I disagree with the idea they’re designing for the future. I think they’re designing for aesthetics with little care to older devices. If this were a major change to the OS, I would agree. It isn’t. It’s a font choice.