Someone in the comments on one of my posts about the Google Font API was asking:
To be honest I still do not understand why should I use Google if I can embed a font myself with just a few lines of CSS. Where is the big benefit? Speed and reliability of the server I won’t let count. (translated into english from german)
That’s a valuable question that I thought would be good to answer. So here we go.
One of the big issues with webfonts still is licensing. If you host a font file yourself you have to really make sure that you have the rights to do so. And the responsibility is entirely up to you. Using the fonts in the fonts api you don’t have to worry about these things as they’re all open source.
Our approach with the font directory is quality over quantity. While we will be growing the number of fonts in the directory we will make sure that fonts are suitable to be used as webfonts across the supported browsers. There were some issues with the rendering on Windows when the api launched but the api can be updated with improved versions whenever necessary which means the api will always deliver the latest and most optimised version to the browser.
While shoving a font file on your own server and writing a few lines of code might be something you can do quickly, testing the font in all the browsers and OSes is not. The font api team takes care of that for you.
Less code & hassle
In theory @font-face is easy to use. In reality there are quite a few gotchas. Plus browsers expect to be fed different font formats. You need to have an SVG version for iPads (which are now supported), EOT for IE and TTF for other browsers. Webfonts for the Android browser and printing of webfonts in Chrome/Windows can be tricky. You need to get the syntax right so it works everywhere at the same time too.
The font api we tries to take care of all of that for you. You add one line of code and it deals with all the complexity in the background.
The more popular the fonts in the Google font api become, the more likely it is that users of your website already have the font cached in their browser when they get to your website. The Droid font is already used by the Government of Chile and Smashing Magazine to just name two examples. And you can expect that to increase in the future.
So if a user has been to one of those websites earlier he has to do no downloading of any font files on your page.
For the initial launch of the font directory it relied mainly on fonts that have already been around before. But by giving font designers the opportunity to be part of the directory it this encouraged them to improve the quality of their fonts when used as webfonts and also in general. The hope is also hope to inspire more font designers to create quality fonts that otherwise wouldn’t be there and for them to have a platform.
All that said there’s nothing wrong with hosting webfonts on your own server, in a lot of occasions it just might be a lot more convenient to use the api. Also, a lot of the benefits listed above apply to other font services too and if you’re looking for a specific font that is not available under an open source license it might be worth checking them out, too.