See the New Emoji You’ll Be Using in 2019
Unicode has released version 12.0 beta, bringing us one step closer to the newest emoji that will be available beginning in March 2019. With each release, the digital characters form a more complete dictionary of what some have called the first global language. (Whether or not they are “universal” is still to be seen—though perhaps we will make first contact with extraterrestrials through the peace emoji.)
Though each new set of emoji includes a range of animals, food, objects, and people, themes do arise. Version 8.0, in 2015, included the first range of skin tones, and 12.0 will include mixed-race couples and families. (The emoji of a couple holding hands, for example, will have a whopping 55 variations.) Since version 8.0’s release, the trend toward inclusivity has been more apparent, with subsequent additions of same-sex couples, women professionals, elderly people, and wider-ranging religious and cultural icons.
Emoji in Unicode 12.0 will also offer more representation for people who live with disabilities—prosthetics, a guide dog, wheelchairs, and a deaf person are all featured. New animals will include the affable otter and the leisurely sloth (the latter of which, we suspect, will see its primetime on Saturday mornings), and new foods include staple ingredients like garlic, butter, and an onion, as well as foods like falafel and oysters. Notably, India is getting more cultural icons, with a hindu temple, sari, diya lamp, and tuk-tuk all making the cut. The first non-Earth planet also makes its debut, unsurprisingly, with Saturn and its easily identifiable rings.
But you may not see the newest emoji appear on your devices just yet. New emoji are published as part of Unicode Standard, which assigns all characters that appear on the web a specific number, in order to maintain a global standard for encoding. Following the release of new emoji, companies like Apple and Google then choose which ones to roll out, and when they’ll become available to smartphone users. (Redhead emoji, for instance, were announced this summer, but were only available for iPhone starting with iOS 12.1.)
So who holds the deciding power as to whether or not you get a waffle emoji? A nonprofit organization known as the Unicode Consortium. (While the name does evoke mysterious grandeur—a 2016 Los Angeles Times article referred to its members as “shadowy overlords”—its structure is entirely transparent and available for anyone to see.)
The consortium is made up of five committees that help shape the future of Unicode Standard. Roozbeh Pournader, a member of the Unicode Technical Committee, explained that the process for reviewing and voting on emoji is handled by both the committee he actively sits on, and a subcommittee. “It’s like the upper and lower courts in a judicial system,” he said. People submit proposals for new emoji year-round, and the subcommittee meets on a weekly basis, usually by phone. They keep the pulse on emoji—themes that are trending and how to quantify the predictions for public use—guiding applicants to improve their proposals, and making recommendations to the technical committee. The technical committee meets quarterly, for a week (most recently in September), to discuss everything that’s published in Unicode Standard, including voting for new emoji.
Members of the consortium itself range from individual professionals and students to companies like Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and China’s Huawei. A full membership sets companies back $18,000; a qualified professional can join for $75, and a student for $35. “Full members get to elect a board, which, in turn, elects officers who oversee the committees, who publish the standards,” Pournader explained. Consortium members don’t partake in the emoji vote (that’s left to the technical committee), but “they can be a part of the process by both observing and providing their expertise”—their expertise, he added, is likely to sway votes.
Anyone can submit emoji proposals, from Google to your little sister. But alongside the proposals of the world’s most influential tech companies, are the suggestions of the average person likely to be taken seriously? Absolutely, Pournader said. The otter, hindu temple, and waffle, for example, all originated from public proposals. In 2017, the breastfeeding emoji was noted for being the brainchild of a British nurse.
Sometimes, emoji originate with a cause. The mosquito was added to Unicode 11.0 in the fight against malaria, and this year, the NGO Plan International proposed a drop of blood to refute the stigma surrounding menstruation.
Since proposals can be submitted at any time, you can start your bid for a tiny digital facsimile of your favorite animal, art supply, or snack for Unicode 13.0. Just don’t be disappointed if Google or Apple changes the integrity of the original design when they add the emoji to Android or iOS—Twitter users had to take matters into their own hands over the scandalous missing schmear from Apple’s bagel.
Jacqui Palumbo is Artsy’s Visual Culture Editor.
Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled Roozbeh Pournader’s last name as Pourander. The text has been updated to reflect this change.