There’s no doubt that the novel coronavirus pandemic has resulted in a lot of changes among tech companies, with rumours of iPhone production delays, the worldwide closure of Apple Stores, and Apple redirecting some of its efforts to make face masks for medical personnel — and that’s just scratching the surface.
However, it now appears that there’s another casualty of the ongoing health crisis that you may not have expected: Emoji.
As much fun as it is when Apple adds a bunch of new Emoji in each iOS release, it’s actually not Apple that creates the new Emoji characters directly. Instead, they come from an organization known as The Unicode Consortium, which mandates the standards that ensure that not only Emoji, but all other characters work properly across a world of different devices. We take it for granted every day, but there’s actually a lot of effort that goes into making sure that the words and letters that one person types in an email or text message actually come out as the same characters on the other end, especially when you get into foreign languages and other enhanced characters.
That said, a company as massive as Apple definitely has some pull with the Unicode Consortium when it comes to suggesting new Emojis, as we saw last year with the addition of new emoji highlighting users facing disabilities, all thanks to a proposal that Apple made to the consortium. Despite this, however, even Apple’s own suggested Emoji don’t get added to iOS until they’ve been ratified and published, since without a standard, there’s be no way of ensuring that the Emoji that you sent out from your iPhone would appear properly — or at all — on other devices.
Each year, the Unicode Consortium publishes a major new update to the Unicode Standard, which includes not only Emoji but also definitions for every letter, number, or other possible character in every written language around the world. Of course, with most international character standards already having been established a long time ago, most of the updates focus more heavily on Emoji.
As a rule, the big new Unicode Standards tend to come out around early March of each year, which gives Apple more than enough time to roll the new Emoji into that year’s iOS update. For example, we already know about 117+ new Emoji characters that will arrive in iOS 14, thanks to the recently published Unicode 13.0 standard.
Next Year’s Emoji Will Be Late
This week, however, the Unicode Consortium announced that it will be delaying the ratification of the Unicode 14.0 standard by six months as a result of the impact from the novel coronavirus pandemic.
While it may not seem obvious on the surface why the ongoing health crisis should result in a delay, the reality is that the Unicode Consortium is a largely volunteer-based organization, and most of the people who donate their time to help develop the new standards each year simply have other more pressing matters to deal with right now.
“Under the current circumstances we’ve heard that our contributors have a lot on their plates at the moment and decided it was in the best interests of our volunteers and the organizations that depend on the standard to push out our release date. This year we simply can’t commit to the same schedule we’ve adhered to in the past.”
— Mark Davis, President, Unicode Consortium
In practical terms, this means that Unicode 14.0 won’t arrive next year until September, a date that will almost certainly be far too late for whatever new Emoji it’s expected to contain to make it into the initial release of iOS 15, although it stands to reason that Apple would very likely just roll the new characters into a subsequent point release, that still might not arrive until early 2022.
That said, the announcement from the consortium makes it clear that this does not impact the new emoji included in Unicode 13.0, which was already announced last month and remains on track. The consortium also notes that it’s contemplating the idea of releasing some “emoji sequences” in an interim 13.1 release. These would be new variations on emoji that combine existing characters, rather than entirely new emoji, so they’re easier to release on a separate schedule and an Emoji 13.1 release could be ready in time for iOS 15.
There is one small upside to all of this, however, as the delay means that the Unicode Consortium has also extended the deadline for new emoji character proposals until this September, meaning that if you have a great idea for a new emoji, you now have more time to make your submission.