Apple says it's working on emoji diversity

Emoji - pictographs used in instant messaging - have become a popular way to express emotion and ideas. Once unique to Japan Support for emoji in Unicode has standardized the way that emoji are displayed on devices worldwide, including iPhones, iPads and Macs. But there's a lack of ethnic diversity displayed in the characters. MTV Act:

When you browse through the emojis on your phone, there are very few non-Caucasian ones to choose from. I mean, they have a water buffalo but no representation of people of color? That’s why, as an emoji addict, I’m glad that Miley Cyrus and “Baby Daddy” star (and lil bro to Tia and Tamera Mowry), Tahj Mowry, have brought up the lack of diversity in the 400-plus emojis.

The omission caused MTV Act's Joey Parker to seek a comment from Apple, so Parker went straight to the top - Tim Cook. While Parker didn't get a response from Cook himself, Apple VP of worldwide corporate communications did respond:

“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.”

It's great that Apple takes it seriously. Some people have been quick to suggest that asking for diversity in emoji displays excessive sensitivity, but wouldn't you prefer to see emoji characters reflect your own ethnic heritage?

What do you think? Is this much ado about nothing, or is Apple right to work towards better diversity in emoji?

Peter Cohen

Managing Editor of iMore, Mac and gaming specialist and all-around technologist. Follow him on Twitter @flargh

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Reader comments

Apple says it's working on emoji diversity

27 Comments

I'm waiting for the middle finger emoji lol. But I don't see it as a huge deal, but like everything else someone is going to complain. I think there are much more urgent things to worry about but hey if apple adds more emojis, it will be welcome since they are missing a good amount of ones that people keep asking for.

Wait, aren't emoji the yellow smiley faces? How is a yellow face considered causasian?

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Have you seen the iOS emoji keyboard? It doesn't just include smiley faces, they have a range of them ranging from noodles to sh*t. skylines to fire engines...

This is EXACTLY what I was thinking while reading the article! I know they have other emoji but for the most part, all anyone I know uses are the Yellow Smiley Faces.

Personally, I think they've steered away from including ethnically diverse emojis because of the assured misrepresentation. Being African-American, how exactly would a black emoji be displayed, other than stereotypically (has anyone REALLY looked at the Middle Eastern one for example??). I think it would be in Apple's, and the Unicode Consortium's, best interest to eradicate all racially based emojis and just stick with the yellow faces. I have been longing for a middle finger emoji as well though haha!

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I agree.
it's an emoji, stop wasting time on specifics and keep it generic.
There are better emojis to make up, the middle finger is a perfect example, than to create minor differences in existing ones.

waste of unicodes.

I agree as well. Being of hispanic decent I could care less if there is an emoji that looks like me. This is like the whole Santa thing. I don't need a Mexican/Spanish/American Santa and I don't need a Mexican/Spanish/American emoji either. They start putting representations of the different races and in there and I guarantee people will be complaining about how they look. I prefer the generic round yellow faces.

I'm hispanic too and I can already see "our" emoji. Tanned faced, big mustache, and a sombrero. MAYBE even a poncho, if we're lucky. LOL.

Maybe just make it a setting as to what race you want the emoji displayed in on your device, there are already plenty of emoji, they don't need to add any more.

I don't think any one is looking to stir anything up or point fingers anywhere. I think it's a legit question considering there are multiple white people featured but only one Asian, and one Indian. If they are going to add a race to begin with then they should include all races. Not just white people. If they were all Asian people I'm sure white people would of spoke up long ago.
Is it a big deal NO but if u gonna do it, do it right.

Personally I would rather them ditch emoji and any ethnic references all together they are too small anyway and just copy facebooks animated stickers. Those actually look fun.

And it's not like they are going to take someone from say the maps team to work on this or affect any features anyone is working on.

Yep, people looking to inject diversity into something used globally are just trouble makers! Diversity is completely unnecessary! #SMH #sarcasm

meh, unnecessary..
The face looks 'generic human', why do we have to split up into races?

Some one has way to much to whinge about...

I really hope that they are working on a more advanced predicative text situation as well. Autocorrect is getting a bit long in the tooth IMO. It's not horrible, but it could be a lot better.

Well said 'LiquidSmoke1'. It's a silly topic but I have noticed the lack of diversity.

How is it that they thought to put a gay couple emoji (2 males/ females holding hands) but not a black man or woman? Come on!

If you want to include everyone, then Apple needs emoji with red and blue bandanas and then some with cowboy hats. Don't forget the gangbangers and rednecks.

Remember when MTV was good music. Now we are talking about proper cartoon icons. No matter how you do it, somebody will be offended. I am surprised that Miley could think this deep. Maybe it was after she had a cat tattoo put on the inside of her lower lip.

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Apple are just scratching the surface and going in the right direction, emojis are an underestimated tool, not just a fun way of posting.
Currently you can use animated emojis via sms MSG only, that should change to twitter posts for example and one day we should be able to integrate any image as an emoji to greatly expand our language and communication

Most emoji's are yellow heads (smileys), so either we are *all* excluded and "ethnic diversity" is a sop (probably), or they could be construed (in a racist way) to be all "Asian."

The real bottom line, is that if pictographic languages were actually serviceable in a modern world, they would not have died out shortly before the birth of the Ancient Egyptian civilisation. In other words, there will never be enough emoji to satisfy every person and every need, so it's a fool's errand to begin with.

Step in the right direction, in general emoji need more variety. I use the female dancer one on occasion since there isn't an equivalent for men. As a person of mixed heritage I'm very aware of the caucasian default in western culture and would rather see a more generic set of smileys rather than something playing off cultural tropes like a brown face with a turban since that doesn't come close to representing the complexity of a lot of backgrounds and relationships (Until the day I can make my own so I can get a Mexican eagle wearing a Hungarian crown while sitting on a maple leaf)

Easy :) no race nothing for the SOB's to complain about! Undress the emoji and problem is sorted. No skin colour for anyone to complain about just plain old ASCII.

There is enough things wrong in this world, and making everything about race is just so petty and sickening.