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  • Origins of Emoji
Origins of Emoji

There is a valid reason why Emoji is in our keyboards, this is due to it being present in Unicode, but there is a bigger reasoning for that though.

Now Emoji is not to be confused with Emoticon (which is an abbreviation of emotion icon), an Emoticon is made by using a combination of characters to create an image (“:D” being a colon and the letter “D” to make a happy face). Whilst Emoji is a Japanese word (絵文字) translating into “picture” (e/絵) + “character” (moji/文字) and originates from Japan.

In 1999 Japan had a simple internet, which had a limited capacity for data, because of this MMS was not available (to send image messages). Due to this a mobile manufacturer, DoKoMo i-mode, customised their own character set to include Emoji (176) in a characters 12×12 pixel grid.

After this proved to be popular in Japan, other mobile manufacturers started implementing their own Emoji’s into their devices. Since different companies did it differently, if you sent messages over two devices with different manufacturers, it would not translate as intended (changing the meaning).

Due to this issue also being worldwide, the Unicode Consortium began compiling a reference of every character with meaning into one package. After a bit of debate, it was decided that Emoji would go into Unicode (since it would be contradictory to their goal if they did not).

After a few years when Apple released their first iPhone, Japanese users started complaining that Emoji was not included. Due to this in iOS 2 Apple implemented Emoji, but you required a Japanese SIM card. A few years later in iOS 4 they implemented Unicode for everyone, so anyone could use the Emoji keyboard (only intended for Japanese users).

Since this was meant for Japanese users it was slightly hidden in the setting, so when Western users found this, it instantly went viral. Now since this went viral though Apple, users using an Android phone could not read texts sent through the Apple Emoji keyboard, so Emoji became more implemented due to popularity.

Also since Emoji is coming from Unicode, there will be characters/symbols/Emoji which you might not understand. This is due to Unicode being a compilation of all characters that have any meaning in any culture. For example, “☬” looks odd and not recognisable to a English person, but it is The khanda, a symbol of Sikhism (Unicode name: ADI SHAKTI & Code point: U+262C).

This article was inspired by a YouTube video from Tom Scott on Computerphile.