Even though the novel coronavirus pandemic means we may not see the usual big release of new emoji until much later next year, the good news is that we won’t be entirely in for a dry spell as a smaller package of new emoji is still coming much sooner.
Earlier this year, The Unicode Consortium — the body that ensures that emoji and other characters work universally across multiple devices — announced that the ratification of the new Unicode 14.0 standard would be delayed by six months due to the ongoing global health pandemic.
Since it’s the major Unicode releases that pack in most of the new emoji each year, this effectively meant that the standard, which is normally ratified by March, wouldn’t be approved in time for new emoji to make it into iOS 15 next fall.
However, now it looks like the Unicode Consortium has decided that it will at least be able to fill the gap with a smaller update that will at keep the new emoji coming, even if it’s at a slower pace.
In a recent announcement, Jeremy Burge, Emojipedia’s Chief Emoji Officer and member of the Unicode Consortium’s Emoji Subcommittee revealed that the group actually has 217 new emojis approved to come to devices in 2021 as part of an interim Emoji-only 13.1 release. While that may sound like a lot, however, it’s important to note that about 200 of those are merely new skin tones for existing emojis, rather than entirely new glyphs.
200 Skin Tones?!?
The reason that there are 200 new skin tones is because this time around the Unicode Consortium has chosen to focus on creating mixed skin tone options for the Couples emojis — Couple with Heart and Kiss.
This resolves a longstanding issue whereby yellow humans, despite being intended as a neutral color, are more closely associated with white people, than people with any darker skin tone.Jeremy Burge, Emojipedia
While there are only five different skin tone options, the need to provide every possible combination of skin tones for both people represented in the couple requires 25 new emojis for each set, and then on top of that the Couple with Heart and Kiss emojis each have four different gender variations: gender-neutral, woman-woman, man-man, and woman-man.
The Consortium already gave the same treatment to the People Holding Hands emojis back in Unicode 12.0 last year.
Of the remaining 17 emoji coming in Emoji 13.1, another 12 address the Person with Beard emoji set, which now switches the previously sole male group of 6 bearded emojis to gender-neutral while adding in 12 new ones — 6 each for male and female variations.
While these may be rendered differently on different platforms, Burge notes that the new gender-neutral bearded emoji should be differentiated from gender-specific ones by things like hair length, face size, or eyebrows.
With 212 emojis being used for skin tones and beards, that leaves only five remaining, but the good news is that these actually are entirely new smiley and heart emojis.
Two new emotive hearts have also been added, a Mending Heart and a Heart on Fire, although there’s still no appearance of the pink heart that the Consortium says has been a popular request from Emojipedia’s audience.
Burge adds that the new Heart on Fire emoji “may be used for representations of desire or lust, or could indicate a sense of burning a past love and moving on,” while the Mending Heart “could be seen as the opposite of the Broken Heart emoji.”
When Are New Emojis Coming?
That shouldn’t be a surprise, however, as Apple doesn’t usually pack in new emoji until one of its early point releases — in recent years that’s been iOS 11.1, iOS 12.1, and iOS 13.2 — so it’s safe to say that they’ll likely make an appearance in iOS 14.1 or iOS 14.2; although they’re not yet in the iOS 14.2 developer beta that Apple pushed out last week, it’s also only the first beta, so there’s plenty of time for them to show up.
As for these new Emoji 13.1 glyphs, with today’s announcement, the Unicode Consortium has officially finalized the set and declared it ready for implementation, so the ball is in Apple’s court, and Burge adds that it’s entirely possible that the iPhone maker could choose to jump straight to Emoji 13.1, however with Unicode 14.0 still at least 12 months away, it’s also possible that Apple might decide to hold these off for next year.
Microsoft is also in a similar boat, having not yet rolled out Emoji 13.0 to any of its platforms.