Apple is bringing in a bunch of new emoji in the upcoming iOS 10 this fall. Not only will they be more gender-diverse—a change recently agreed by the industry-led Unicode Consortium—but one emoji will be notably less violent.
As the debate over gun control rages on, Apple’s gun emoji, currently representing a real pistol, will in future be a green and orange water pistol.
The change is not coming with much explanation, though—the toy is simply on the list of new emoji alongside the female weightlifter and the rainbow flag.
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It is certainly that case that campaigners have been pressuring Apple since last year to #DisarmTheiPhone by removing the gun emoji, in order to “take a stand for stricter gun accessibility in America.” But it is not clear whether this move comes in response to that campaign.
In the event, Apple (AAPL) is not removing the gun emoji so much as undermining it, in a way that will take the edge off a lot of messages that are intended to appear threatening or even just ironically gritty. (It should be noted that the use of the gun emoji has been taken very seriously by a range of authorities.)
Emoji are essentially strings of standardized characters that are supposed to show up in more-or-less the same form across all compliant platforms, in order to convey the same meaning, but different app-makers can still represent that form and meaning with their own twist.
So, someone on a Samsung phone might choose to compose a message to someone else with a realistic pistol in it, only to have it show up as a toy if the recipient is using an iPhone.
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Then again, if the recipient is on Microsoft’s Windows 10, they may already think the sender is talking about sci-fi laser guns—Apple isn’t the only company to employ this tactic.