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The Making of Apple’s Emoji (medium.com)
261 points by Doubleguitars on Jan 12, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 107 comments

Must be an incredible feeling to have designed and drawn what is fast becoming a core part of our language.

Although looks like the pile of poo and ice cream no longer use the same swirl:



Over the past few releases of iOS, Apple has redesigned them all to give them a new feel and make them more consistent.

They are still the same in WhatsApp

WhatsApp seems to be an interesting case with regard to Emoji history anyway. Am I right that they appear to have copied Apple's emoji library at some time in the past and reused those on all platforms (except iPhone, of course) instead of the native emoji symbols that those platforms also started to provide? Are they still doing that today?

I remember talking to confused Android users many years ago, when all this Emoji and WhatsApp craze started (I'm from Germany, where there are a lot of Android users and WhatsApp is king among messaging services due to its multiplatform capability, while iMessage isn't used nearly as much due to its inherent limitation to iOS) and people saw me using Emojis in other apps on iOS that were not WhatsApp. They were like "hey, how did you get those cute WhatsApp icons out of WhatsApp and into that other app?". It got pretty clear that many Android users associated the Emojis directly with WhatsApp instead of recognizing them as a feature provided by the operating system, and that seems to have been caused mostly by WhatsApp copying the iOS Emoji library early on, when Android did not yet have Emojis or had different-looking ones.

I was quite confused for a while because when I entered [e] (which the emoji keyboard and the input field showed as [−7]) I got [2½] from WhatsApp which looks completely different in tone.

[−7] https://emojipedia.org/microsoft/windows-10-fall-creators-up...

[2½] https://emojipedia.org/apple/ios-6.0/grinning-face-with-smil...

[e] https://emojipedia.org/grinning-face-with-smiling-eyes/

Keeping emoji consistent across platforms was seriously a great move by WhatsApp (and others like Facebook Messenger, who use their own emoji set). This way, users don't have to worry about how the emoji they send might appear on the recipient's device.

Not only did they ship the iOS ones on Android for the longest while, but they recently started testing a completely self-designed set of emojis on Android that looks unlike any other!

See http://www.androidpolice.com/2017/10/03/whatsapp-introduces-... and https://emojipedia.org/whatsapp/ for the full list.

My girlfriend recently switched to iOS just because she wants those emojis back for WhatsApp. Can’t even blame her!

Hieroglyphic society....

yikes, that's like the store-brand version of apple's emojis.

I liked the old Android emoji much more and was disappointed that they lost the race for becoming the standard. It used to be possible to express the emotion of being content that is not exaggerated by showing teeth or blushing [1], and "weary face" could be used to humorously express exhaustion [2] while it now seems to stand for "my house burned down" [3] (I especially miss "weary cat face" [4]). The Apple emoji look like they were designed for people with emotional agnosia.

I guess one could argue that emojis are supposed to express the essence of an emotion to the fullest extent, but just like with color pigments it is nice to have dilutions.

(At least they got rid of that awful, awful grinning emoji [5].)

[1] https://emojipedia.org/google/android-4.4/smiling-face-with-...

[2] https://emojipedia.org/google/android-4.4/weary-face/

[3] https://emojipedia.org/apple/ios-11.2/weary-face/

[4] https://emojipedia.org/google/android-4.4/weary-cat-face/

[5] https://assets.change.org/photos/2/by/dr/IcbYdrlxwuCPHHJ-800...

There's a study that was done on that grinning emoji - and the miscommunication it can cause. I'm glad they fixed it: https://grouplens.org/blog/investigating-the-potential-for-m...

You know, the consortium also approved the slightly smiling face,[1] which should show content without being so exaggerated. Also I would never thing that your example in 2 would be expressing exhaustion, the mouth closes in the middle like the face is crying, not like it is out of breath. To me the weary face on iOS 11.2 looks like "poor you, i'm so sorry"

[1] https://emojipedia.org/slightly-smiling-face/

See also this interview with Susan Kare, who designed the first set of icons for Mac:


> I had no idea that within a few months of completing such project, it would revolutionize our culture’s way of communicating

I'm pretty sure emojis were all over the internet before apple - forums, chat apps, IMs etc? Were they the first ones to include them in the default SMS app or something?

There were yellow smiley faces all over forums and chat apps, but IIRC they were just conversions of emoticons ;-) to images in proprietary ways -- they had nothing to do with the actual Japanese set of emoji.

iOS was the first place I was ever exposed to real emoji (in the US), and actual desktop OS support for Unicode colored emoji in any application seemed to be a reaction to the popularity in SMS.

But I'm no historian on this... anybody correct me if this is wrong?

Edit: timeline from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emoji#History

> The emoji keyboard was first available [on iOS] in Japan with the release of iPhone OS version 2.2 in 2008

> The emoji keyboard was not officially made available outside of Japan until iOS version 5.0 [2011]

> Apple first introduced emoji to their desktop operating system... in 2011

> Google added native emoji support to Android in July 2013

> As of Windows 8.1 Preview [2013], Segoe UI Emoji font supplies full-color pictographs.

"Classic" Japanese emoji, pre-Apple[1], looked pretty crappy. Non-Japanese users had access to better-looking emoticons on ICQ, AOL, Yahoo and MSN (I particularly liked the MSN emoticons) but they were non-standard.

In retrospect, iOS's decision to combine full-colour emoji with standard Unicode mappings was genius.

[1] https://www.moma.org/calendar/exhibitions/3639

Emojis emerged back in the 90's when Japan was the world leader in cell phones with cool features (now they're all about iPhone). I think they started on NTT DoCoMo phones. It's why so many of the original emoji are Japanese-centric (Mount Fuji, Japanese characters, the Japanese symbol for fax).

Emoticons originated long before that. Heck, even before the internet. I know we were using them on Quantum Link before it became Q-Link, before it became AOL. I remember seeing them on Usenet and some of the networks like Bitnet back before all the networks were joined into the internet.

The iPhone was the first platform I ever saw unite emojis and emoticons in one place, though now everyone just calls them "emojis."

I believe you are right.

In the late 90s most forum software had image emoticons as well as animated ones. The Japanese have had emojis (which is where the name comes from) on their phones since the beginning of the century.

I am not sure what (if anything) Apple has to do with this.

I believe they were used a lot in Japan and Apple created them initially for that market as well. They were one of the first to make them accessible in the west though.

IIRC, for the longest time, you couldn't even get the emoji keyboard on Western devices without some sort of weird kludge.

Putting a magic number into the “magic number” app unlocked emoji on any iThing iirc.

Hmm... I still don't see the "revolutionary" part tho.


Those were "emoticons", which used plain ASCII, and were sometimes converted to proprietary icon sets within forums/IM clients/etc.

So, entering :-) would render a smiley face sometimes.

However, it wasn't a Unicode character that retained meaning independent of the specific implementation.

Eg, :grr: might render on phpBB, but nowhere else.

Smilies on the old phpBB [0] forum software etc. must've been around for longer than emoji. This[1] particular set gives me a lot of nostalgia, but I can't remember what forum software it was packaged with. Things got pretty extravagant, I can't really imagine these[2] being useful in everyday conversation (potentially slightly NSFW)! Hell, even MSN Messenger had them.

Looking at these brings back all kinds of memories from the BBs I frequented a decade or so ago.

[0] http://i.imgur.com/LuZeOn7.png

[1] https://4.img-dpreview.com/files/p/E~forums/58700537/8eea8bf...

[2] https://forums.somethingawful.com/misc.php?action=showsmilie...

> Smilies on the old phpBB [0] forum software etc. must've been around for longer than emoji.

Emoji started appearing in the late 90s; phpBB is "only" 2000.

Can someone explain to me what these parent could be about?

> It should be noted that although Raymond and I, Angela Guzman, are the original Apple emoji designers responsible for the initial batch of close to 500 characters (and were awarded a US patent for them)...

Probably a design patent, which is a completely different thing than a patent you get for an invention. It grants someone an exclusive right to an ornamental design.

Interesting, had never heard of a Design Patent before. Or at least was not actively aware what that is. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Design_patent

That doesn't have their names on it. I found this with both Raymond and Angela's name on it, but seems mostly unrelated: https://www.google.com/patents/US20120306914

What is Raymond's full name?

Raymond seems to be Raymond Sepulveda - http://www.xanthic.net/about/


What about Willem Van Lancker, who claims to have created 400 of the 500 original emoji characters at Apple?


I just noticed that HN strips out the unicode emoticons.

For example here's supposed to be a smiley face:

(but it's not there)


I think comments are in ascii, not unicode.


HN strips out a bunch of emoji unicode, but some unicode is allowed to get through.


The author says:

>>Designer at Google with a RISD sleeping pattern.

What is an RISD sleeping pattern?

She's referring to the Rhode Island School of Design, her alma mater.

Thank you. I thought it was some disorder or type of polyphasic sleep or something.

I remember first seeing emoji on Github and that they were very early those emoticons. I'd love to know more about the story there. I did some Googling and found nothing...

GitHub is not so old, it started in 2008 IIRC.

I'm missing two smiley icons:

-big hypocritical smile

-not impressed

And I'm missing the option to create and send my own emoticons as SVG.

For the "not impressed" one, the unamused one comes pretty close: https://emojipedia.org/unamused-face/

You should put together a request to the unicode consortium - http://unicode.org/emoji/selection.html

There is a good 99% Invisible episode about adding "Person in the lotus position" and "person with headscarf" if you'd like to know more about the process. The reporter only wanted to document the process but ended up submitting a proposal to the Unicode consortium for "Person in the Lotus Position."


On a related note here is a proposal for a recent update to the animal emoji set. It's interesting to see the factors they consider when choosing whether or not to integrate a new emoji. I didn't know that much thought went into what they chose.

I basically want all the old Yahoo Messenger smileys, updated for higher resolution displays: https://usefulshortcuts.com/yahoo-messenger/smileys-emoticon...

We have a billion emojis yet we're missing some of the basic ones...

Those were great, the hug for example is so much better.


Actually, you don't. See the bit on "zero width joiners" in this article. https://blog.emojipedia.org/fun-emoji-hacks/ That's how skin tone and gender are applied in many cases.

For not impressed I use one of these four:

- https://emojipedia.org/neutral-face/

- https://emojipedia.org/expressionless-face/

- https://emojipedia.org/unamused-face/

- https://emojipedia.org/face-with-one-eyebrow-raised/

For hypocritical smile I use this one:

- https://emojipedia.org/grimacing-face/

Obviously context shapes how these emojis are interpreted, but I find they hit the mark for those two expressions.

Scroll down, and look how your choice for hypocritical smile is drawn on Messenger or LG. Not a hypocritical smile at all.

I wonder if Sundar would be willing to attend Unicode UTC meetings.

Either I'm too old or I don't get how to use Emojis. I only use them to add tone or express my feelings or attitude so I use maybe five to ten most common emoticons. Eggplant, ice cream or almost any kind of other "factual" icons are completely useless to me. I would rather have more readable and expressive emoticons than hundreds of useless figurines. It would be nice to see if people indeed use them.

My favorite emoticons are Koloboks [1][2]. They are very expressive and adorable. There were also static versions of the emoticons and they were almost equally as expressive.

[1] http://www.en.kolobok.us/content_plugins/gallery/gallery.php... [2] http://www.en.kolobok.us/content_plugins/gallery/gallery.php

Its about being a standard. The good thing about Emojis is they are part of Unicode and are now almost baked into everything natively. Vendors have slightly different art, but the same meaning is always conveyed. And there's a whole lot of them. It's like a international standardized pictogram language, and no surprise it became popular in Asia first. Just think about how you can already use Emojis to do some basic communication with someone on the street of Beijing or Tokyo.

> but the same meaning is always conveyed

Debatable. https://medium.com/matter/lost-in-emoji-translation-apple-vs...

Old article, and Android is/has ditched the blobs, but still highlights the importance of the art in conveying the same meaning.

That article misses the gravest one in my opinion: toy water gun vs actual gun https://emojipedia.org/pistol/

That has to be the most idiotic emoji implementation - clearly not what the Unicode Consortium intended, and borderline against the specification.

> clearly not what the Unicode Consortium intended, and borderline against the specification.

While I think the change was a bit silly so this this hyperbolic and unfounded statement.

The specification merely states "pistol" and uses a silhouette of a gun as it's reference. Even if you argue that the reference is clearly an automatic pistol (reasonable) the specification in fact specifically states "The shapes of the reference glyphs used in these code charts are not prescriptive. Considerable variation is to be expected in actual fonts."

So, as much as I disagree with the change (the intent was... well meaning if, I think, misguided) it is not only not "against the specification" - it's directly in line with guidance of the specification.

The problem with this specific one is Apple changing the glyph, and thus the meaning, with an update.

Messages I previously sent were completely rewritten in a software update because Apple changed the glyph so drastically.

There might be a loose standard, but if you've ever tried to reliably convert text with emojis to a static image or print media (with proper licensing), you've probably experienced how much of a pain they can be. The fact that new emojis keep getting added to the standard means that at any point in time, your implementation (font/code/assets) might be out out-of-date and sprinkled with tofu. It's a constant battle — one that even Apple can't seem to keep up with on their own platforms (I'm looking at you, Messages app in MacOS Sierra).

> Either I'm too old or I don't get how to use Emojis

It depends on "where" in the internet you were socialized.

Filling posts with small icons was popular since the very beginning of web forums and (propietary) instant messangers. They were not just used for expressing emotions, but also had decorative use, or sometimes were used to replace whole words.

In short, they were used simply because they were there, and looked funny. Just a creative use of what's offered.

And as far as I can see, this hasn't changed much till today.

It's just that most of these icons are now standardized so they work across multiple applications without having to transfer extra PNG files everytime an icon is used.

Until the late 90s, we lived on IRC, newsgroups, and email lists. Just plain text, probably with monospace fonts as well. The web and instant messaging caught on later.

I, too, think most emoji are just a picture, and I don't get what feeling or message most of them are supposed to convey. Certainly I don't find them useful to replace a word I can type in 0.4 seconds. Is it really useful to include a picture of a basketball on a message already obviously about basketball?

Still, I try to get on with the times and sprinkle them in my WhatsApp messages sometimes.

Back in the mid 90s, we already had scripts for ircII that used cowsay or figlet to generate annoying ASCII art, taking up too many of your terminal's 24 lines. In some ways, things never change...

Because this definitely didn't exist on text-only interfaces ;)

Eggplant, peach, eggplant, peach, eggplant, peach, sideways rain!!!

A great way to discuss plans between you and yours Friday or Tuesday after work plans without words. It’s fun and 5 o’clock can’t come fast enough!!!

Agreed. I don't know what Shakespeare was thinking with Sonnet 18. What a waste of effort.

He was thinking "this is much more efficient than seven thousand words worth of pictures".

Think of them as symbols that represent how the sender would like the receiver to emotionally receive the message. It's also a youth culture Shibboleth, especially with the non-intuitive factual icons.

Kids these days are just so, like, random, man, and geezers like us just don't get it.

(But emojis are still useful -- they're a weak version of voice tone or body language that is also quirky, expressive if you know what you're doing, and keeps old people like us out.)

What I don't understand is how it is even possible that anyone would use the emoji's in a different way. There's now such a ridiculous number of them that it's basically impossible to find any of them except the most recently used ones. At least not faster than just typing out the words they refer to.

Many typing assistance systems (like keyboards on Android or iOS) offer some kind of "emoji-text to emoji" conversion, meaning that if I type for example "pizza" I get the pizza slice emoji suggested in one of the three auto-completion suggestions. At least that is the case for Swype on iOS, which I personally use, but I've seen similar functionality on some Android keyboards.

> At least that is the case for Swype on iOS

The stock iOS keyboard also does this.

So does the stock keyboard on Windows 10 Mobile (for what it's worth)

Yes I know about that, but that kind of defeats the purpose, right? If I have to type 'pizza' to get a symbol for pizza, I can just use the word itself. Or do people use them to communicate with illiterates or people who speak a different language? ;-)

It used to be that emoji were just to express some feeling that would otherwise take a lot of words, or to disambiguate statements that could mean different things in different context (sarcasm/irony, jokes, etc). Emoji are are very useful for that. Like the parent I replied to I don't understand the use case for almost all of the other emoji.

An emoji isn't really a shorthand for a word or phrase, using an emoji has its own unique meaning. Responding to something with (heart-eyes) is interpreted differently to anything verbal, like "I love that." In the same way, you can't substitute facial expressions and vocal tones with more words. It used to be that you'd have 10-30 emoticons directly representing facial expressions, the only thing that's changed is that now people pair multiple emojis to create emoji-phrases that can represent more elaborate gestures and actions. A lot of the weirder "why is that a thing" emojis are there to enable that. Stuff like rolling-eyes + gun-to-head, ‍️blank-stare + man-fleeing, raised-hand + crossed-arms (time out), etc. If your SO tells you they're picking up pizza on the way home, pizza + heart-eyes, pizza + orgasm, partners + pizza = love, etc have different meanings and vibes to stating "I love pizza."

It's interesting because it's no longer just filling a gap in textual communication, but using textual communication to express a thought or joke that you can't really express with the same interpretation in any other conversational medium. Responding to "and Dave will be there" with blank-stare + man-fleeing expresses something you could only really express otherwise by drawing a comic strip on the spot and handing it to someone.

Personally I would like to know how to disable that "feature"

I agree. I find them most useful to express feelings or emotions, but so many of them are missing. MSN Messenger used to have a "hug" emoticon---replaced from ({) or (})---that I always miss as emoji. But then you have all these crazy Emoji ligatures... I feel that the Emoji Unicode team is just a bunch of people having too much fun (not complaining, having fun is important :-)

Don't worry, they're too busy arguing to have fun https://www.buzzfeed.com/charliewarzel/inside-the-great-poop...

There _is_ a hug emoji: https://emojipedia.org/hugging-face/

Never caught it's meaning as a "hug emoji"... Been using it to refer to a gesture that a dear friend of mine does with her hands though. Guess the meaning is in the eye of the beholder(s)?

That doesn't look like a hug at all.

Also I liked how with the MSN one you could say ({) and your friend would reply (}). There is something meta about closing a brace there too... Ohhh, nostalgia.

I never thought of it as a 'hug' either, somehow I always saw it as a person with really tiny hands :-o

Yeah I thought this was "jazz hands".

I still use ascii smileys. I find them more creative, more readable, and faster to type.

Fortunately, in OSX Messages, typing old-school emoticons turns them into emoji. :) becomes one of those yellow smiley faces. So it's the best of both worlds.

I hate when apps do that. Details are important to facial expressions. Like, you can't just swap out one frown for another. It's like if the app replaced :( with D:

Yeah, they're both frowns, but they don't have the same meaning!

If you think these are confusing I recommend going to a big Twitch stream and watch the chat. You won't believe what you see.

That makes me think of a line from Sir Clarke in his retirement years, about how he did have access to and used email but didn't care much for the web. For him the latter seemed like trying to drink from a firehose at full blast.

If anything, Twitch chat is the firehose hooked right up to back end of someone having explosive diarrhea.

It's worth browsing the emoticon gallery from time to time. There is always something there that's funny in a certain context or can help breaking the ice. Whatsapp, for example, has the Saint's logo as emoji, which turned out to be surprising and delighting that one friend who is a fan of that team and has NFL gamepass and home cinema...

FYI it is a fleur-de-lis[1], which, appropriately to the team's name, is frequently used in connection with saints.

Which is also the beauty of emoji -- they don't have any meaning or intention prescribed by Unicode, only a form.

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fleur-de-lis

> they don't have any meaning or intention prescribed by Unicode, only a form

For instance, some of the actual-use semantics of U+1F346 AUBERGINE and U+1F4A6 SPLASHING SWEAT SYMBOL definitely have gone beyond what the Unicode committee probably initially thought of.

Our ability to read "sex" into anything is astounding...

> Which is also the beauty of emoji -- they don't have any meaning or intention prescribed by Unicode, only a form.

The unicode consortium insists it's meant to be an eggplant, but we know better ...

That’s also the problem because Unicode specifies what the emoji show but not how they show it and not exactly.

For instance, there may be an emoji for ‘finger pointing’ and Apple or another party may show that with a finger pointing left. Users do not know the emoji has no specified direction so they use it in situations where it looks wrong if the finger points right.

Don't overthink it. They're fun pictures to add alongside text. That's it. People think they're fun and quirky. They have their favorites and they like using them. It's that simple.

> I only use them to add tone or express my feelings or attitude so I use maybe five to ten most common emoticons.

Everyone does. The rest are jokes, mostly.

The eggplant emoji is used as stand-in for penis so be careful with that one. Could sink your career.

Same with the peach, but now I have to ask, who uses an Emoji in a professional setting? You're skirting the edge of being professional already if you ever use more than ":-)" in an informal Slack message (Aside from close coworkers/friends obv).

They're not used for formal communication. Emoji are used more for informal / familiar conversation.

Adding a cake emoji to "Happy Birthday" in Slack is nicer than plain text. Younger-staffed start-ups will use emoji alongside "oops", frustration, and/or celebratory statements.

I've definitely had older sales-type people text me using emojis. It's very "hey fellow kids" and I'm 32. The business in discussion are often multi-million contracts. I would never use texts in the first place with vendors outside of "running late"-type communications.

The Japanese are more likely to include emoji in their writing, as they are the inventors of the communication style. You might send a kadomatsu emoji to a client and that could be completely acceptable, depending on the nature of the relationship. The Japanese, of course, would have additional formalities beyond a kadomatsu including year end cards, spring gifts, etc.

Marketing trying to be "bro"?

These just about symbolise everything wrong with the modern web.

Whereas the humble ascii emoticon was a fun exercise in pareidolia--as an emotional aside to whimsically add a little lightness to proper writing, they have now been standardised, streamlined and commercialised, and are used as a substitute for proper writing, turning everything they're supposed to represent into a lie--a Web of lies.

Popularity seems to be the death-knell for anything cute, quirky, quaint, or mildly amusing with its initial charm being brutally curb-stomped by the one-size-fits-all boot of commercial interests.

> it would revolutionize our culture’s way of communicating

Thanks for that :'( Sic transit gloria mundi. And no, I'm not being snooty: I am that old!

First of all, I absolutely loathe emojis and hate that they are on by default with no (easy) way to disable (turn into flat glyphs in the color of the text, not :some_stupid_name: as some applications offer).

Having dozens of sets of emojis that look quite different doesn't help either (on web in particular). And there's not that much coherence within the sets either. Apple in particular is really bad at this. For example, beer[1] looks like a photo, whereas crap[2] is in a completely different style. Each individual one can be nice and well thought out, but it makes them all look bad if they don't fit together.

(Twitter's are much better in this regard)

1. https://emojipedia.org/beer-mug/

2. https://emojipedia.org/pile-of-poo/

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