As 2019 comes to a close, we here at Emojipedia have been reflecting on all the emoji updates that took place throughout the year.
Gender neutral people were made the default appearance for many emojis starting on Android. A bunch of additional gender inclusive emojis also came to iOS in the past few months, and the world didn’t collapse as a result.
So with all that in mind, what else happened in the world of emojis this year?
Above: the new ? Yawning Face emoji as it appears across various vendors.
A total of 25 emoji releases were added to Emojipedia throughout the year across 9 different active emoji vendors. Of these updates, 14 included the introduction of brand-new emojis from the Unicode Consortium‘s two official emoji recommendations this year, as well as a couple of new emojis not yet recommended for general interchange (RGI) by Unicode.
Above: New Emoji 12.0 emojis added in Android 10 in September 2019. Image: Google designs / Emojipedia composite.
These additional emojis provided a gender neutral option for existing profession and identity-focused people emojis (e.g. ?⚖️ Judge and ?? Person: Red Hair), as well as expanding the skin tone combinations available for the holding hands emojis introduced in Emoji 12.0.
At the time of writing only Apple support Emoji 12.1, with Apple releasing both Emoji 12.0 and Emoji 12.1 updates simultaneously in October via iOS 13.2. Apple’s designs for both updates are shown below.
Above: All 398 new emojis brought to iOS devices in 2019. Image: Apple designs / Emojipedia composite.
The release of the new Emoji 12.0 designs throughout the year enfolded as follows:
- ? Twitter in early April via Twemoji 12.0
- ? Microsoft in early May via May 2019 Update
- ? OpenMoji in mid May via OpenMoji 12.0
- ? JoyPixels in late June via JoyPixels 5.0
- ? Samsung in late August via Samsung One UI 1.5
- ? Google in early September via Android 10.0
- ? Facebook in late September via Facebook 4.0
- ? Apple in late October via iOS 13.2
- ? WhatsApp in early December via WhatsApp 2.19.352
The biggest new set of additions from early 2019’s Emoji 12.0 was the introduction of various people holding hands with one another, such as the non-gender-specifying ??? People Holding Hands emoji shown below.
71 of the 230 new emojis in Emoji 12.0 – roughly 31% – featured some combinations of one or two ? Woman emojis, one or two ? Man emojis, or two ? Person emojis. All of the existing skin tone modifiers options are available for each of the people holding hands: for example, the ????? Women Holding Hands: Dark Skin Tone, Medium-Light Skin Tone emoji shown below shows one ? Woman modified by the ? Dark Skin Tone and the other modified using the ? Medium-Light Skin Tone.
The new ? Drop of Blood was initially proposed as a means of allowing discussing menstruation via emoji.
However, across vendors’ implementation of Emoji 12.0 an old adversary has raised its head.
Emoji fragmentation is a term often used to describe when at least one fundamental attribute an emoji’s design is notably different between vendors. While some emoji differences don’t overtly change the meaning of what is being conveyed, others completely change what is attempting to be said.
Example of both a minor and major variation in emoji design can be seen in the new ? Person Kneeling emoji.
The relatively minor difference seen across vendor’s ? Person Kneeling is the color of the person’s top. While Google, Facebook, Twitter, and JoyPixels have all opted to use an orange attire for this gender neutral designs, each of the other vendors have used a different color (e.g. a light grey in the Apple design).
However, a potentially major fragmentation is that Google’s ? Person Kneeling is only kneeling on one knee. Since 2016 this posture has become associated with the U.S. national anthem protests : a connotation not present in any of the other vendor’s designs, since all others are kneeling on both of their knees.
Other new instances of both major and minor design fragmentation from Emoji 12.0 are highlighted below.
The new ? Oyster emoji has been largely categorised as a food emoji by vendors’ emoji keyboards. However, many vendors have chosen to display a pearl on top of the creature’s fleshy interior: indicating instead that it is a non-edible Pinctada genus, and therefore not technically a food. However, as the Apple, Facebook and JoyPixels ? Oyster emojis lack the pearl, they can be considered an edible Ostreidae oyster.
The fruit juice contained within ? Beverage Box is highly varied between vendors: apple, grape, orange, lemon, and a combination of pear, apple and cherry all appear.
Alongside the 398 new emojis recommended by Unicode in 2019, there were two emojis not yet RGI introduced by a number of vendors throughout 2019: the ⚧️ Transgender Symbol and the ?️⚧️ Transgender Flag.
While ⚧️ Transgender Symbol has had non-RGI support from Microsoft and Samsung since 2012 and 2013 respectively, it was also given an emoji version by both Twitter and WhatsApp this year alongside the ?️⚧️ Transgender Flag. Facebook also began to suppor the ?️⚧️ Transgender Flag as an emoji this year, although it does not feature an emoji version of the ⚧️ Transgender Symbol.
Both of these emojis are candidates for full emoji status in Emoji 13.0, which is currently being drafted.
?? Gender Neutral Changes In 2019
By far the biggest change seen across various emoji vendors in 2019 was the introduction of gender neutral designs to many previously-released emojis.
Throughout the year Google, Apple, Twitter and Joypixels all introduced over 300 new gender neutral designs to their emoji design sets, following the declared intent of Google detailed in the “Using Gender Inclusive Designs” submission. ? Person Shrugging, ?️ Detective, and ? Merperson are shown as examples below.
Above: a selection of new gender neutral designs introduced for previously-released emojis as they appear in the Apple, Google, Twitter and JoyPixels sets.
“human-form emoji should normally be depicted in a gender-neutral way unless gender appearance is explicitly specified”
However, instead of adhering to this recommendation, most vendors opted to display human-form emojis with gender presentations: the ? Police Officer appearing as a man and ? Person Getting Haircut appearing as a woman.
After issues were raised relating to how emojis were depicting men and women, Emoji 4.0 introduced gender-specific versions of most person emojis, leading to the creation of the gender-specific ?♂️ Man Police Officer and ?♀️ Woman Police Officer. However, the non-gender-specific ? Police Officer emoji still retained its previous gender-specific appearance, continuing to reinforces stereotypes related to the “default” gender for certain roles and activities.
Above: the ? Police Officer as it appeared across vendors at the start of 2019.
In addition to this, when new human-form emojis such as ? Zombie were recommended, vendors would inconsistently designate gender.
Above: the ? Zombie as it appeared across vendors at the start of 2019.
Above: the ? Police Officer as it appeared across vendors near the close of 2019.
Above: the ? Zombie emoji across vendors at the end of 2019.
While this wider representation for emoji users who do not identify with a specific gender identity, it does lead to further new instances of emoji fragmentation.
In early 2018 Emojipedia CEO Jeremy Burge mused about whether 2018 would go down as “the year of emoji convergence“. This ultimately came to pass, with the growth of design convergence epitomised by the changing of the ? Pistol emoji across all vendors to display a toy waterpistol instead of a legitimate firearm.
In 2019, this trend towards design greater convergence was best encapsulated by Samsung’s historically divergent emojis undergoing a large-scale redesigns to be visually in-keeping with those of other vendors.
For example, this year Samsung updated its ?♀️ Women With Bunny Ears emoji to display two women clad in black dresses and bunny ears, as opposed to a single woman wearing white bunny ears.
Additionally, Samsung’s ? Elephant also now appears as a much more realistic animal, losing the cartoon heart by its trunk.
Other examples of emoji design revisions being made in the name of design convergence are highlighted below.
Facebook’s ? Grinning Face lost its clenched-teeth grin in favor of an open-mouth smile of other vendors.
Google updated ? Drooling Face to have its eyes closed and mouth smiling.
Google changed the position of the sweat drop on their ? Sad but Relieved Face to better match the appearance of other vendors.
Samsung also updated its ? Smiling Face With Hearts to displays three hearts floating around its face instead of four.
Windows’s ☕ Hot Beverage is now a white cup on a matching saucer instead of a pale blue mug.
Despite the trend towards emoji design convergence seen throughout the last few years, 2019 still introduced some new instances of emoji fragmentation. An example in which both convergence and fragmentation occurred simultaneously can be found in Facebook’s 4.0 update.
Following their September 2019 update, the ? Angry Face and ? Pouting Face now both display the same design – one in-keeping with other vendors’ ? Angry Face design. However, in losing its red gradient ? Pouting Face is now notably inconsistent with the design of other vendors.
There were also some instances of fragmentation that were not widely addressed by vendors in 2019.
One such outstanding vein of continued fragmentation can be found in the implimentation of animal emojis. While where certain vendors display a full-bodied creature for some animals, other vendor’s just display the animal’s head. ? Gorilla is shown as an example of this below.
However, perhaps the biggest outstanding instance of fragmentation can be found in the ? Dizzy Face emoji designs.
The inconsistent shape of the eyes in ? Dizzy Face (spirals or x-shaped) can lead to confusion between users as these two symbol types have different connotations: specifically, the x-shaped eyes are often used as an indication of unconsciousness or even death in the visual language of comics, cartoons, and emoticons.
Despite the substantive changes seen across all active emoji sets in 2019, a couple of major cross-platform quirk remains within the Samsung emoji set. Since Samsung TouchWiz 7.1 in 2016, ? Regional Indicator Symbol Letter U displays a capital “V” (instead of U) and ? Regional Indicator Symbol Letter V displays a “U” (instead of V).
As regional indicator letters are not intended to be displayed in isolation (they are intended solely for the creation of flag emojis) this design mis-match isn’t of major consequence to most users, but is an odd bug to last for so many years despite there being 7 Samsung emoji updates since this oddity’s introduction.
Additionally, the ?️?️ Eye in Speech Bubble emoji remains absent in Samsung One UI 1.5, having been removed from Samsung’s emoji set in 2018. This is of note considering that in February Samsung One re-introduced a selection of emoji previously made unavailable on Samsung devices in an August 2016 update: ✝️ Latin Cross, ☪️ Star and Crescent and ‼️ Double Exclamation Mark.
There was, however, an oddity from an update to Facebook’s emoji set in December 2018 that was rectified in 2019.
The ? Non-Potable Water emoji was corrected to display the standard cross-through-tap design, as opposed to indicating a ban on binning litter. This bizaare change echoed Windows’ 2016 design for ? No Littering, which instead of discouraging littering also appeared to condemn proper garage disposal.
It is expected that all major vendors will provide support to this emoji update in the first half of 2020. Google will likely be one of the next vendors to implement support, given that they have already previewed a selection of Emoji 12.1 mock-ups.
Above: a selection of Google’s Emoji 12.1 designs, as previewed within their initial proposal document.
With the 2020 emoji list due to be finalized in the coming months, expect to see any that make the final version of Emoji 13.0 to hit phones in the second half of the year.