What Are Emojis and How Are They Different from Emoticons?
Emojis are ideograms and smileys used in electronic messages and Web pages, are used much like emoticons and exist in various genres, including facial expressions, common objects, places and types of weather, and animals. Originally meaning pictograph, the word emoji comes from Japanese language. The resemblance to the English words emotion and emoticon is purely coincidental.
Originating on Japanese mobile phones in the late 1990s, emoji have become increasingly popular worldwide since their international inclusion in Apple’s iPhone, which was followed by similar adoption by Android and other mobile operating systems. In 2015, Oxford Dictionaries named an emoji the Word of the year.
Smartphone’s today are packed with all sorts of simple images that we can insert into messages to help communicate more effectively. We call them emojis, and kids today might have a hard time imagining a time when people had to communicate without the benefit of emojis.
It’s true, though. As recently as the late 1990s, we had to rely mostly on mere words to communicate with others. Can you imagine? Fortunately, all that changed in 1998 when a Japanese man named Shigetaka Kurita invented emojis. Kurita worked for NTT DoCoMo, a big Japanese mobile communications company. He was part of a team tasked with developing the company’s first mobile Internet system. Their system limited users to 250 characters in messages, so Kurita thought emojis would allow users to communicate more effectively while using less data.
The first set of emojis contained 176 very simple, 12-pixel by 12-pixel images that expressed a variety of emotions and ideas, including emojis for things like the weather, foods, drinks, feelings, and moods. Kurita took inspiration from Japanese comics (manga) and the logographic Chinese characters used in the modern Japanese writing system (kanji).
The word emoji literally means “picture” (e) “character” (moji). Emojis are different than emoticons. Emoticons have a similar purpose, but they’re composed using regular characters. For example, you can create a smiley face using a colon, a dash, and a parenthesis: :-). Emojis, on the other hand, are actual pictures or icons.
Kurita’s emojis were a huge hit in Japan, and they soon were adopted by other Japanese technology companies. It took a while for them to spread to other technology platforms in other countries, however. The popularity of emojis in the United States is attributed largely to their inclusion by Apple in its iOS operating system in the late 2000s. The emoji floodgates truly opened in 2010 when emojis were standardized by Unicode, which is the universal standard for character-based electronic communication.
Standardization meant that technology companies, such as Microsoft, Google, Twitter, and Facebook, could develop their own emojis that could be recognized regardless of operating system. The exact appearance of emoji is not prescribed but varies between fonts, in the same way that normal typefaces can display letters differently. For example, the Apple Color Emoji typeface is proprietary to Apple, and can only be used on Apple devices (without additional hacking).
Different computing companies have developed their own fonts to display emoji, some of which have been open-sourced to permit their reuse. Both colour and monochrome emoji typefaces exist, as well as at least one animated design.