Emoji May Get Skin Tone Options


If you thought emojis were a short-lived gimmick, you could be disappointed by two new moves to improve the experience of using them.

The Unicode standard may be updated to allow emojis in particular skin tones. Meanwhile smart-typing app Swype has been updated to automatically suggest an emoji based on the tone of your text.

While many users had figured out ways of combining characters to represent facial expressions in text messages, the idea of having dedicated icons comes from Japan, where emoji literally means picture character.

Some of those emoji are now incorporated in Unicode, the industry standard for making sure letters and characters look the same in different computer systems and applications.

At the moment the Unicode standard calls for emojis of faces to be a neutral color such as yellow, or to only be the outline of a face. However, a proposal under consideration would include the option to choose between five skin tones to better represent the individual sending the message. Those tones are taken from five of the six categories used in dermatology to classify the risk of sunburn; it appears emoji-loving goths and redheads are out of luck.

The system would work by the skin tones being a ‘character’ in themselves, so for example selecting a smiley face and then a dark skin tone would produce a dark smiley face. As things stand, the skin tone selection would only modify human emoji such as faces.

There’s still a lot of administration before the proposal is adopted and takes effect, but it appears to be backed by both Apple and Google, so looks to have a good shot of becoming reality.

Meanwhile Swype has introduced auto-emoji options in its latest iOS update. The app works by users swiping their finger from letter to letter rather than tapping individual keys, with ambiguities over the intended word figured out by the context of the writing. The latest edition will use that contextual analysis to suggest an emoji that fits the context of your message.

The feature will be available in six languages: French, German, Italian, Spanish, UK English and US English. Hopefully every single message typed in UK English, regardless of its content, will produce a winky face emoji to indicate irony or sarcasm.

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