This narrative is about how a casual email I sent to some people at work ended up causing changes that will affect the entire web browser industry.
I used to write the iOS client for Voxer. It is one of the top social networking/communication app for iOS and Android (these things fluctuate, but it’s usually up in the top 10). It helps people communicate–individually, or in group chats. People like to communicate in lots of different ways so it allows you to share using voice, pictures, or text. The application is available in 50+ countries so it tries to do all of this in as internationally-friendly a way as possible. For text that means using Unicode as the encoding standard.
One of the great things about human communication is that we keep finding so many new ways to do it. One medium is emoji—little picture characters you can embed in your text. The pictures include everything from smiley faces, to buildings, to piles of poo; and they really do help liven up casual communication.
One of the great things about Unicode is that it has lots of room to grow, and the Unicode consortium regularly adds new things to the standard. As part of Unicode 6.0 they added code points for emoji. This was great because previously there were multiple, incompatible, encodings for emoji characters. Making it an open standard was great.
One of the great things about Apple is that when they see a standard that makes sense, they adopt it early, and decisively. When iOS 5 was released back in 2011 it included full support for Unicode 6.0 and started using the new standard emoji code points rather than the old incompatible non-standard code points.
As of Unicode 6 there are a lot. There will be a lot more. Pretty much every new character created for Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and lots of other scripts, will go into the extra-BMP space. Plus, you know, you gotta be able to send smiley faces and piles of poo.
If you ever think that you’re just a small voice in a big industry, or that big giant international technology consortia don’t care about the needs of users, well, you’re still mostly right. But sometimes, just sometimes, everything works out the way that it should, and smart people work really hard to fix big problems on short schedules, and it makes the world a better place for all of us.