The Economics of Typography

I just read this fascinating article on GT!Blog, presenting a theory of why Japan never made the iPod. The basic premise is due to the increased memory and processing requirements of representing Japanese text on screen adequately, Japanese manufacturers tended to develop appliances, rather than general purpose computers. So Japan (and by extension, east Asia in general) became leaders in electronic gadgetry such as games consoles, fax machines, watches, stereos and the like, with the trend reaching its (possible) apotheosis with the mobile phone - not one of which devices required a general purpose personal computer as the connecting hub. Each device did its thing, and was specialised for that - if anything became close to a general purpose device, it was the mobile phone itself, though it was, and is, quite limited in what it can do and what people want it to do.

Now, as the article points out, modern computers can handle Japanese (and Chinese, Korean, etc.) and the computer-as-hub idea is gaining popularity in east Asia, but it’s fascinating how the typographic requirements of a language have apparently altered the entire economy (and culture!) of not just a country or region, but the whole world.

japanese-grid

Using the characters from the GT!Blog article, you can see how an 8×8 grid is inadequate for representing Kanji.