19 Oct 2011 yosch   » (Master)

A look at the fonts in Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich: Roboto and Droid

Plenty of news sources have picked up on today's Android Ice Cream Sandwich SDK release (AFAICT no sign of full source release yet) and among all the various nifty features in this version there's Roboto (Regular|Italic|Bold|BoldItalic) a new font developped in-house, IOW not commissioned via an external foundry. Apparently Christian Robertson is the designer. He is also credited as the author of the AndroidClock font for version 3.1. It looks like an original design (with smallcaps included).

But unfortunately there's no license in the metadata but only the very basic copyright and trademark statement...

IMHO all the smart folks in the Android team should know better than distributing something without any indication of actual licensing, you know it's going to go around the intertubes very fast: just a few hours after the release, plenty of sites offer a download of standalone files which may or may not be a version of Roboto. It's out in the wild but nobody knows exactly if and how you can actually use it, branch from it, etc...

The rather misguided "font data copyright" is still there although fonts are software, the fsType embedding restrictions are set to Preview & Print embedding which will limit various use scenarios of the font, there's nothing in the description field, no upstream URLs and no FONTLOG inside or outside the font. Could do better I guess.

Also in the new SDK I can see that the Droid font family has been expanded with support for Armenian, Ethiopic and Georgian. Great news for users of these writing systems in Android! The Droid fonts now explicitly indicate in the metadata that they are licensed under Apache 2.0 (which wasn't always the case but was thankfully fixed) but today they still have the fsType embedding bits set to Editable embedding which also limits various uses of the fonts. At some point they were potentially going to be available under the OFL as well but apparently this has been put on hold.

So here's to hoping that in upcoming versions the Android team will indicate licensing intent more clearly, fill in the useful metadata fields and fix the embedding buglets in these fonts. Android users and people who may want to use these fonts elsewhere thank you in advance.

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