emoji, literaly “picture characters”, are the small graphical icons that fill (or litter, depending on your point of view!) many Japanese mobile phone email messages, but within Japan the three main mobile phone service providers have all got different encoding representations for them and support different sets of emoji, meaning that although they all perform encoding translation when exchanging emails, it can be a bit hit-or-miss as to whether or not the message gets through. Next, add into the mix the iPhone with support for at least four different kinds of mail (SMS, SoftBank’s own iPhone-specific mailbox, webmail, and third-party POP3-based mailboxes), and even within the one device a lot of trickery needs to take place to make the experience consistent for the user.
Google have recently been ramping up their advertising of Gmail in Japan as they currently languish with the also-rans in the popularity stakes. One aspect of their advertising has been to highlight their support of emoji, but the lack of a standard encoding method makes everything a bit more complicated than it need be.
Thus, engineers from Google and Apple have got together to try to propose an encoding for these emoji (they have identified 674 of them!) that can be added to the official standard ISO/IEC 10646, as can be seen in this document, Proposal for Encoding Emoji Symbols. The proposal uses a few of my translations as reference documents, which is nice.