The truth about iPhone Emoji

There has been a few posts going around the internet talking about the enabling of Japanese emoji on the iPhone. I was curious, and after enabling and experimenting, here’s the truth about emoji on iPhones.

Once enabled, you get access to a staggering amount of icons! To be exact, 469 symbols, ranging from smiley faces to weather icons, flags, animal faces, (clean) hand gestures, and much more. Here’s what they all look like, screen-grabbed right on my iPhone after I put them all in an email. FYI, scaling has occurred, these are not perfect.

Diagram listing all Emoji for iPhone and iPod Touch v2.2.1

Diagram listing all Emoji for iPhone v2.2.1

The trick here is that while these icons look fantastic on the iPhone, when sent in SMS text messages and emails, the beautiful pictures you see above are sent as Unicode characters, as they came through to me via my Gmail:

These characters are part of the Private Use Area of Unicode. Which is why, if you’re viewing this page on a browser not running on an iDevice, you will see a whole slew of question marks or boxes with little letters in them, followed by the copyright, registered trademark and trademark symbols.

Doing some more research, it turns out a bug has been filed on OpenRadar outlining how Apple’s implementation isn’t even that compatible with NTT DoCoMo’s de-facto standard on ‘Pictographs’, even though it would seem they’ve implemented every single icon in that standard.

I’m not expert, but it seems that pre-Unicode, Japan standardised on Shift-JIS, a modification to ASCII that would allow the storage and display of the Japanese Hiragana and Katakana characters that make up Japanese written language. This was pressed forward into the design and manufacture of the Japanese handsets, and even into the operator’s networks, and for the time being, this means both NTT DoCoMo, the biggest telco in Japan, and Softbank, the telco serving iPhones in Japan.

NTT DoCoMo created the defacto standard on emoji on Japanese mobile phones, and have outlined the character encodings for both Shift-JIS and Unicode. Every handset in Japan supports this standard.

When the iPhone was first released, it apparently was criticised in Japan for not supporting the sending and receiving of emoji glyphs. Eventually Apple got around to it, but according to rdar://6402446, iPhone Firmware 2.2 currently implements the encoding of emoji using Unicode characters in the private use area, but not the same private use characters as the NTT DoCoMo Pictographs standard.

So it would seem that, to cut a long story short, Apple’s emoji are directly incompatible with every other handset in the world.

According to Apple, Softbank doesn’t even do translation for iPhone SMS to other Japanese handsets. It will however, translate emoji in emails, but only if you have a Softbank email address and SIM.

And because the rest of the world doesn’t have handsets that work with emoji, that’s why Apple only enables the emoji keyboard for phones with Softbank SIMs.

Still, it wouldn’t be too difficult to write a script to support emoji characters in your web app, supporting both NTT DoCoMo Unicode and Apple Emoji Unicode. Apple have done a nice job with their icons. Interesting times.


Save Icon Confusion is reverting?

What shall we do with the drunken save button?

So floppy disks are totally redundant. Very few new computers are coming with floppy drives. Ask a five-year-old kid what each of these things is:

floppy diskcompact diskSD Card

In my totally unscientific research, I asked a mother of a six-year-old if her little boy would know what these three things were:

CDs: Yes.
Memory Card: Yes.
Floppy Disk: Probably not.

So what did software developers do? Look for a new replacement.

The past

Microsoft Office X for Mac (2001) has used a ZIP disk:
Excel save icon

NeoOffice 2.x for Mac took me a while to figure out… Something akin to the Windows and OSX icon for Removable Drive?

NeoOffice save icon

Why did they have to confuse me?

The Steam Train Comparison

My reaction to this confusion was ‘why change it?’

In New Zealand, and as it turns out, Italy and Sweden, our road signs that say ‘railway level crossing’ look like this:

Railway Crossing sign for New Zealand


But hold on, that’s a STEAM train! These trains are not around any more except for in museums and… children’s books. Of course, we all know that this sign is a train. Digging further, it turns out here in New Zealand we have a sign for ‘light rail level crossing’:

Light Rail level crossing


What the hang is that… I guess it kinda looks like a train, but it’s electric, but it could be a tram.. huh… *SMACK!* Your car just got hit by an oncoming TRAIN. Talk about confusing and potentially fatal. Luckily, I’ve only got my learner driver’s licence, and I haven’t ever seen this sign in use.

My point is why change something that works?  Luckily, developers have caught on that the floppy disk is an international symbol:

The Present

OpenOffice 3.0 Beta has a floppy disk:

OpenOffice 3.0 Save Icon

And thankfully, Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac has switched back to a floppy disk:

Excel 2008 save icon

Here’s the cincher: Google Docs, a web application that doesn’t even have access to your local computer still uses the floppy disk for its save button:

Google Docs save icon

Curious and Curiouser

Looking for further examples, I dug around. It turns out many applications don’t even have save buttons any more. Apple’s iWork doesn’t have a save button in any of their applications tool bars; you can’t even customise the tool bar to put one there either! I guess these applications are expecting you to memorise the more universal shortcut of Command+S or Ctrl+S


I think that we should stick with the floppy disk. It’s recognisable by all us old timers, but I think that young ones who haven’t seen a floppy disk will still know that it means ‘Save’.

But then again, isn’t just using the keyboard a lot quicker?

WCAG2 will be squashed by the developer community

Joe Clark, respected Web Accessibility guru, author of Building Accessible Websites, is criticising the draft version of the new Web Content Accessibility Guidelines which has been under development for over 5 years now.

Clark doesn’t just criticise the content of the new guidelines, but the manner in which they have been delivered to the world and how valuable stakeholders haven’t been listened to or even consulted.

What does this mean? A lot of the work of WCAG1 — the things that actually work — seems to be being undone and losing a lot of it’s punch. And instead, most of what WCAG2 is proposing Joe claims to be unachievable — and he’d know.

I could start explaining, but you’re better off reading what Joe Clark had to say his A List Apart article.

The WAI committee didn’t give much time for interested parties to provide comments — only until 31st May 2006. You better read this now and provide your feedback to the group while you still can.

UPDATE: Corrected some mistakes — thanks Joe Clark for dropping by and correcting me 😉