Before this calendar month, the Unicode Consortium–a nonprofit made upwardly of member companies including Apple tree, Google, IBM, Microsoft, and more–announced a new version of the Unicode Standard that would bring more than 250 new emoji to people’s devices in the near hereafter. Included in the list of new emoji are a golfer, a racing motorbike, a embankment with an umbrella, and a derelict house building. Why were
emoji chosen, and not others?
The elementary answer is: they weren’t called, not really. Any child at bedtime asking his or her mother “Mommy, where do emoji come from?” will no doubt go to sleep disappointed. There is no committee that decides that there needs to be a chipmunk emoji, or that an aardvark emoji would just be beyond the pale. Rather, emoji–similar language itself–has a life of its ain.
The first matter to empathize is that computers don’t really understand text. They only sympathize numbers. When y’all send a message on your smartphone, you aren’t really sending text to someone. Your smartphone is taking a message, breaking it downward into a sequence of numbers (called bytes), and then beaming them to another smartphone, where those numbers are then
to you as text characters, thanks to fonts.
This system is chosen Unicode, and it’s a sort of human-to-estimator Rosetta Stone. Information technology’s an encoding standard that makes sure the message sent from your iPhone in America tin be read on an Android phone in Argentine republic or a Windows Phone in Siberia. Text shown on unlike devices might have unlike typefaces and font sizes, just the actual
volition be the aforementioned.
As part of the standard, the Unicode Consortium maintains a giant database of international symbols, each of which corresponds to a unique number a estimator can understand. Letters, numbers, and punctuation marks are part of this database, simply Unicode also contains many other symbols, such every bit the glyphs used to transcribe Chinese, or pictographs, like emoji. Think of it like a giant reference chart, with bytes on one side, and a pictorial representation of a character on the other, and you’ve got the right thought.
What Gets Added To The Unicode Database?
Not just any character or symbol tin can get added to the Unicode database. Instead, every petition for a new symbol has to undergo a complicated vetting procedure. Speaking to Co.Design, Marker Davis, president of the Unicode Consortium, the major criterion for determining whether or not a new character or symbol is added to the standard is if information technology’s already being used extensively in text-based advice: for example, in analog print, or in writing.
“It has to be in the wild already,” says Davis. You can’t only design a new graphic symbol and submit information technology to Unicode for blessing: you need to basically prove that the Unicode standard has a hole in it
that character, because people are already using it to communicate every unmarried day. Fifty-fifty if you do prove it, though, getting the character adopted can take years. For an extreme example, consider Egyptian hieroglyphics. Although they have been used for thousands of years, and scholars write almost them every day, they were merely added to the Unicode standard in 2010.
Given the above criteria, information technology seems incredible that Unicode has as extensive an emoji library as information technology does. Emoji are fun, but are they essential? Apparently, yes.
Emoji Are Essential To Communication
The explanation for why Unicode supports drawing hot dogs, piles of poo and raspberrying ghosts at all is actually fairly straightforward: Emoji were
to be essential. Although emoji weren’t officially function of the Unicode Standard until 2010, the colorful drawing symbols have been a major part of Japanese smartphone culture since 1998, when they debuted equally a cute software feature on local phones. Pretty presently, millions of Japanese phones across multiple carriers came with huge emoji libraries pre-installed.
The problem, though, was that phones outside of Nippon didn’t empathize emoji, because Unicode didn’t support them. If a Japanese kid sent an American friend a message with an emoji, his phone would just cough up some gibberish. For hardware and software makers, this meant that if they wanted their devices to support emoji, they couldn’t rely upon the Unicode Standard. They had to hack in support for emoji, obviating the point of adopting Unicode in the get-go place.
In 2010, Unicode revealed the 6.0 version of the standard, including a library of 722 emoji that were mutual to all three of the major cell telephone carriers in Japan. Unicode didn’t blueprint or create any of these emoji. In fact, these emoji often look very different from one device to another, thank you to the fact that emojis, like letters, come up in fonts. The reason that they be at all in the Unicode Standard, though, is because they spread virally through Nihon and into the remainder of the world,
the fact that Unicode didn’t support them, largely considering large companies like Apple and Google added their ain back up.
The “new” emoji being added to Unicode every bit part of the 7.0 standard are actually even older. In fact, they are more often than not made upwardly of symbols that take been in use since 1990 as part of Microsoft’due south Wingdings and Webdings fonts, which ship with every version of Microsoft Office. These emoji accept spent the meliorate office of a quarter century existence used every day before becoming standard.
The truth is that adding new emoji to Unicode isn’t that much different than calculation a 27th letter to the alphabet. First, you’ve got to apply information technology yourself. And so, y’all’ve got to go other people using it. And finally, you have to prove to experts that the alphabet has a hole in it without information technology. That might be plenty to brand an apprentice emoji designer despair, but the fact that every smartphone on Earth at present ships with a character representing a pile of anthropomorphic poo on information technology proves that it tin can be done.