Roboto is a font that was created in-house at Google, to be specifically used for their Android operating system. It was introduced in the 4th release of the OS, which is codenamed “Ice Cream Sandwich.” The designer of Roboto is Christian Robertson, one of Google’s interface designers. It serves as the default font of Android and comes with every 4.0 device, but now it can also be freely downloaded and installed on your computer, as of January 12, 2012. Also the app developers for Android can use Roboto to give their apps native look. As far as fonts go, Roboto is very reminiscent of the beloved Helvetica typeface, but it has some of its own charm that comes from the small differences between the two. Google has called the font “modern, yet approachable” and “emotional.”
Roboto is a grotesque sans serif and the font family includes regular and oblique styles of Thin, Light, Regular, Medium, Bold, Black, and Condensed widths. It was created from the ground up with UI and high-resolution screens in mind, and it shows. It scales extremely well and easily adapts to different screen resolutions, which is a plus, considering the wide array of Android phones and tablets.
Many have pointed out the similarities between Helvetica and Roboto. In October of 2011, Stephen Coles of the font-obsessed website Typographica took it a step further when he declared “Roboto is a Four-headed Frankenfont.” He then went on to show how Roboto was inspired by — and perhaps borrowed from — four typefaces: Helvetica, Myriad, Univers, FF DIN, and Ronnia. While he put forth quite a case, most agree that the seemingly mashed-up nature of Roboto is not a big deal. It’s a very well put together font that winds up having its own feel, even if individual letter forms are reminiscent of earlier works. In the end, it feels new. And it truly suits Android, which is the most important part.
Typography in Android has improved dramatically with the introduction of Roboto. Because of its open source status, and adaptable nature, Android has come off as Frankenstein’s monster in the past, aesthetically speaking. At times it would feel cobbled together and lacking in cohesiveness. The introduction of Roboto not only improves the look and feel of the operating system — it also polishes and solidifies Android’s branding.