Display fonts could set consumer IoT devices apart - Embedded.com

Display fonts could set consumer IoT devices apart

LAS VEGAS — When system designers develop wearables, medical devices, and Internet of Things things, the last item on their minds might be how to render text imaging on tiny screens with limited hardware system resources.

Oxygen monitor

Oxygen monitor

But aesthetically pleasing and scalable typefaces might be the factor that makes one IoT device stand out from others, according to Monotype Imaging Holdings Inc. Monotype, a leading typeface provider based in Woburn, Mass., today unveiled a new technology called Monotype Spark, with a font-scaling engine and complex script-shaping engine re-designed for low-end connected devices.

In a recent interview with EE Times, David Gould, Monotype’s director of product marketing, said, “Sure, voice activation is becoming an important user interface for many wearable and connected devices. But our research shows that the combination of voice and text [on screens] will coexist quite a long time” as an effective UI.

From bitmap to scalable fonts
How best to render text in various hardware systems isn’t a trivial matter. Systems must use different world languages, and they are built with different processing power and memory footprints.

Traditionally, designers are “forced to settle for a bitmap font approach” on very low-end devices, said Gould. It's because system resources for low- to mid-end automotive clusters and wearable devices are constrained. They often deploy processors such as ARM Cortex-M3 CPU running at 50 to 120 MHz, with limited run-time memory, he observed.

Problems with the bitmap approach are many.

First, quality is often low. The appearance of curves and diagonals tends to be jagged.

(Source: Monotype)

(Source: Monotype)

More important, bitmap font solutions are tough for system designers to handle, since every combination of language, font size, and style needs to be “hard-coded,” and stored in local device memory. Typically, low-end devices end up supporting only one or two font sizes, according to Gould.

Making matters even worse, the bitmap solution, which is not flexible, must be redone whenever a system gets upgraded with a new screen. This could result in longer time-to-market and more re-engineering.

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