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?

My life in the Glutter Black

I got my first Mac when I was in Sydney for Web Essentials 2005 (now called Web Directions); a nice 12″ iBook G4. I called it squishy and I made him mine and he became my squishy. Actually, it’s name was Glutbook (Along with my phone GlutPhone, a usb thumbdrive GlutKey, a bluetooth apple mouse GlutMouse, another thumbdrive Revenge of GlutKey, and a bluetooth Mighty Mouse MightyGlut).

On saturday, Glutbook wouldn’t power up. It made loud fan noises, but no apple chime 🙁 After trying to use the Apple website to self diagnose and repair, I bundled it up in my bag, and took it down to MagnumMac, hoping that the service department would be open.

Nope. Not available till Monday, and I wouldn’t get a verdict till then. Paying for ‘same day’ service and checking Glutbook into what could either be a hospital or a morgue, I left feeling worried about having to shell out to replace it. Talking to my friends, they said it sounded like a fried logic board; that’s basically the motherboard of the laptop — the bit that everything plugs into, except on a laptop, things don’t really plug in so much as are soldered permanently onto it. If it fails, you replace the lot.

Monday rolls around, and I get the call — Glutbook died. Probably from overheating due to a faulty fan. NZD$1500+ to repair it. Crap. Oh well, at least the hard drive, the RAM, and the two batteries I had for it are still good (stay tuned).

I ask to be transferred to sales, and I discuss a replacement over the phone, discuss finance, and end up calling the financiers to get pre-approved, which surprisingly happens over the phone — none of this two-hour waiting crap. I tell my boss the sob story and ask if I can go sort it out and get a replacement.

I really wanted the Black 13″ MacBook 2.0GHZ, but after discussing it with my friends, I was essentially paying $400 for 40gb in a matte black shell, so I asked for the one below it, which comes in white. Oh well, I thought, the HDD is user serviceable on the MacBook, unlike the iBook — if it’s not a big deal, I can put a bigger hard drive in it later. But they were out of stock! Screw it, and as my friend Matthew said on the phone, once you go black, you’ll never go back.

So in order to introduce, here’s my first post on this blog made on GlutBlack. She’s great — class act all the way! I love it’s solid keyboard, the integrated iSight camera, the magsafe power connector, and the immense improvement in speed over Glutbook. I can totally recommend the MacBook range to anyone who thinks it will suit their needs. I mean, I didn’t need an aluminium MacBook Pro, what with me mostly reading and editing text and working on the odd Fireworks PNG file.

Linux on my handheld

So I bought a GP2X from trademe (thanks Binh from

I had a short problem upgrading the firmware to 2.0; it ‘bricked’ the device. After a bit of wiki reading and obtaining advice from djwillis on efnet#gp2xdev my SD card wasn’t playing well with the firmware upgrade software. I’m now the happy owner of a Linux-powered entertainment device! HUZZAH!

I’ve installed Quake 1, a Sega Master System emulator, a Mega Drive (Genesis) emulator, and can’t wait to see what else I can get running on this thing!