Ask a Techspert: What’s that weird box next to my emoji?Ask a Techspert: What’s that weird box next to my emoji?Contributor

What does “decoupled” emoji updates mean?

It basically means emoji can be updated on your phone or your computer without you updating your operating system. As of this month, all apps that use Appcompat (a tool that enables Android apps to be compatible with several Android versions) will automatically get the latest and greatest emoji so you can send and receive emoji even if you don’t have the newest phone. And this will work across Google: All 3,366 emoji will now appear in Gmail, on Chrome OS and lots of other places when people send them to you. Apps that make their own emoji rather than defaulting on the operating system may find themselves falling behind as taking on the responsibility of maintaining and distributing emoji is a lot of work. This is why we’re so thrilled to see Google rely on Noto Emoji so everyone can get the latest emoji quickly.

Since you mentioned Gmail being an early emoji adopter, it makes me wonder…how old are emoji? Where do they come from?

A volunteer-based organization called the Unicode Consortium digitizes the world’s languages. They’re the reason why when you send Hindi from one computer the computer on the other end can render it in Hindi. In their mission to ensure different platforms and operating systems can work together, they standardize the underlying technology that Google, Apple, Twitter and others use to render their emoji fonts.

You see, emoji are a font. That’s right. A font. I know. They look like tiny pictures but they operate the same way any other letter of the alphabet does when it enters our digital realm.

Like the letter A (U+0041) or the letter अ (U+0905), each emoji is assigned a code point (for instance, 😤 is U+1F624) by the Unicode Consortium. (Some emoji contain multiple code points — I’m generalizing a bit! Don’t tell the Unicode Consortium.) Point being: Emoji are a font and like fonts, some emoji on iPhones look different than they do on Pixel phones.

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