In August, Apple made a controversial move when it revealed that in iOS 10 its emoji for a gun would look like a water gun instead of pistol-like, undoubtedly removing the stark symbolism of violence.
But Google, which owns Android, the most popular mobile operating system in the world, doesn’t plan to follow suit. Why?
“We believe in the cross-platform communication so we are maintaining our gun,” Rachel Been, a Google art director who worked on the latest version of Android’s emoji, said on Saturday at Emojicon in San Francisco.
Specifically, Google’s decision stems from the fact that aside from Apple, no other platform has moved to entirely change how it represents the gun emoji. So for the sake of maintaining a similar meaning between platforms, it’s choosing to stick with the traditional pistol-like icon. In other words, if a user from a different platform (other than Apple) sends a pistol-like emoji, for whatever reason, to an Android user, Google wants this user to receive one that also looks like its intended meaning from the sender, and vice versa.
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Making emoji representations as universal as possible has been an important focus for the Android team. For example, as it worked on Android N, the latest version of its mobile operating system, the company submitted a proposal to the Unicode Consortium (the non-profit that governs emoji and all other characters) to add a slew of new icons to represent more professions for women, which was accepted.
So as the Android team researched what these new emoji would look like, it realized that some of its original designs aren’t all that universal. The female medical professional, for example, was wearing blue-green scrubs but that’s not how women in medicine are dressed all around the world. The female farmer was holding a pitchfork and wearing overalls but again, that’s not how women working in farming dress everywhere.
This type of universality is also central to the Unicode Consortium itself. As Mark Davis, who presides over the consortium’s emoji committee explained during the conference, the organization seeks to approve emoji that it believes will be very popular around the world. And part of that popularity comes from the icon having a meaning for a lot of people. With that said, people of course use emoji for metaphors and those can vary across cultures and users.
So more than anything, Apple’s move to change its gun icon to a water gun is a political statement, and one that the company seems to believe is more important than keeping the emoji’s depiction universal everywhere.