It all started in 2012, when Miley Cyrus sent out a tweet calling out Apple for the lack of cultural diversity in emoji choices.
>RT if you think there needs to be an #emojiethnicityupdate
— Miley Ray Cyrus (@MileyCyrus) December 19, 2012
Last month “Baby Daddy” star, Tahj Mowry started the conversation again when he sent out the following tweet expressing his dissatisfaction with the lack of racial diversity in Apple’s emojis.
It makes me mad that there are no black emojis…
— Tahj Mowry (@Tahj_Mowry) March 16, 2014
Inspired, MTV Act Blogger, Joey Parker reached out to Apple’s CEO, Tom Cook with an email inquiring on whether or not Apple planned to add more ethnically diverse emojis. In response, Katie Cotton, Vice President of Worldwide Corporate Communications for Apple emailed the following statement,
“Tim forwarded your email to me. We agree with you. Our emoji characters are based on the Unicode standard, which is necessary for them to be displayed properly across many platforms. There needs to be more diversity in the emoji character set, and we have been working closely with the Unicode Consortium in an effort to update the standard.”
And then came Oju Africa! While Apple slept on the issue of diversifying the emojis choices, Oju Africa, a division of African telecommunications company, Mi-Fone, launched Black emojis designed for Android within days of Apple’s announcement!
Mi-Fone is also happens to be the first African mobile company. Oju, which is a Yoruba (Nigerian language) word meaning face, seems a fitting name for this new player in the world of emoticons . Oju Africa’s creative director states,
“We follow global trends but we are differentiated by our authentic African voice. So as a brand we wanted to do something that only Africa could pull off, something that could become so iconic that it would have the world talking. I believe what we have created will ensure that every African on the planet won’t be able to help but love it!”
How did Emoticons Come About Anyway?
Ever wonder how our first childhood attempts at art masterpieces made it to our cell phones? Scott Fahlman, a computer scientist at Carnegie Mellon University, is credited as being the “father of the “emoticons” due to his use of keyboard symbols to create a smile in a memo (see below) in 1982.
As with almost everything, like the phones, music, televisions and just about anything that comes to mind, technological advancements took the emoticons, otherwise known as emojis, to a whole new level. Emojis have since gone from a simple text image to the more complicated, sometimes animated emojis we use today.
The use of cute images showing emotion on mobile devices started in 1995 with Japanese teenagers, pagers and a heart symbol. Japanese telecommunication company, NTT Docomo, was sitting pretty and raking in the dough with a market share of about 40 percent consisting mainly of teenage customers. A bad decision to drop the heart symbol for more business oriented symbols caused teenagers, who made up the majority of their customer base, to abandon the company for a competitor. Emojis were born out of Docomo’s efforts to regain market share.
The original purpose of the emojis was to interject the emotion and personality lost when sending emails, which were still a fairly new form of communication, versus face to face conversations or letters. The creator, Docomo employee, Shigetaka Kurita, drew his inspiration from Japanese comics as well as kanji, a single character Japanese writing system. Kurita explains,
“In Japanese comics, there are a lot of different symbols. People draw expressions like the person with the bead of sweat, you know, or like, when someone gets an idea and they have the lightbulb. So there were a lot of cases where I used those as a kind of hint and rearranged things.” From kanji, he took the ability to express abstract ideas like “secret” and “love” in a single character.
In 2005, Unicode Consortium put a bow on it and standardized emojis, thus enabling users to incorporate smiley faces, an ice cream cone, heart and various other symbolic forms of expression in messages from one cell phone carrier to another. While this is wonderful and convenient; several ethnic groups are not being represented in the Apple emojis selection. Apple claims,
“Part of the reason Apple doesn’t have any black emoticons is because getting them approved takes time. It takes several years for Unicode Consortium, the non-profit responsible for standardizing symbols used across Web, to add or revise emojis to its database.”
However, they were able to add several Caucasians emoji images plus one image of a darker complexioned male wearing a turban (we are guessing maybe Indian or Middle Eastern) since 2005. It is 2014.
No worries Apple, there are still unrepresented groups of people in the emoticon selections. Better late than never.