Change Notes Font On iPhone/iPod touch

I really, really detest the Market Felt typeface used in the Notes application in the iPod touch and iPhone. It is hard to read, hard to edit points into, and looks plain childish.

Fortunately, I stumbled upon a way to easily have your notes displayed with Arial Helvetica. And, no, you do not need FontSwap, jailbreaking or any complicated deep system maneuvering. All you need is right there in the iPhone OS.

For this walkthrough I am using a second-generation iPod touch with firmware version 2.1.1 loaded. This also works with the iPhone.

  1. In the Home Screen, tap on Settings.
  2. Tap on General, followed by Keyboard (it is near the bottom of the page).

  3. Tap on International Keyboards.
  4. Scroll down to the end of the page and tap on Chinese (Simplified).
  5. In the page that comes up, you will see two settings, Handwriting and Pinyin. Turn both settings on.
  6. Go back to the Notes application. Create a new note or tap on an existing note to open it. If you are creating a new note, write a word or two so that you can easily verify that the typeface changes.
  7. Tap in the note area to bring up the on-screen keyboard. Tap on the button to the left of the space bar, the one with an icon of a globe. The keyboard layout will change to one meant for Chinese handwriting recognition input. Don’t worry; just pay attention to the next step.
  8. On the left of the input area, you will see four rows of buttons. The first button at the top is the Backspace. The second button below it is what we are interested in. For those of you who do not understand Chinese, the button says ‘Space’.
  9. Tap on this button. The typeface of your note will change from Marker Felt to Arial Helvetica! But do read on! The next step is very important.
  10. Tap the globe button twice, or if you have many input languages set up, tap it till the space bar flashes the words ‘English (US)’ (or the name of your native language). Your input language is now back to default, and you can continue to edit your note. Even if you close your note, the typeface will remain as Arial. That’s it!

Unfortunately, you will have to repeat the last few steps (7-10) for each new note you create, but this method does keep you from having to modify core iPhone files.

Care to know what just happened?

There are two ways to input Chinese characters on a computer, either by handwriting recognition or by a method known as Pinyin, in which a user spells out the phonetic pronunciation of Chinese words with the Latin alphabet on a standard keyboard. Each resulting Chinese character is then encoded—popularly with an encoding method called Unicode—into a document. This goes for the input of any other non-Western language as well.

Encoding non-Latin characters into a document requires a compatible font. Luckily for us, Market Felt is not a Unicode font. So, by picking a non-Latin input method, we are forcing the input engine to switch to a Unicode font such as Arial Helvetica so that it can display both Latin and non-Latin characters correctly. If you would like to know more about the magic that goes on in the background regarding character encoding, Wikipedia has an entry on the topic.

Note: This article has been corrected since publication.

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