COVID-19 might mean no new emoji in 2021

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2020 emoji
No new emoji might appear in 2021, so these 2020 additions might be the last for a while.
Photo: Emojipedia

The group that’ll determine which emojis would have been added next year said Wednesday that it’s delaying its decision by six months, until September 2021. This raises the possibility that there’ll be no new emoji characters in next year’s iPhone operating system update.

The new 2020 emoji list has already been unveiled by the Unicode Consortium.

2021 emojis delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic

The emojis that are added to all mobile operating systems, including iOS, are determined by the Unicode Consortium. This group depends on the efforts of volunteers, who are all dealing with the global COVID-19 pandemic.

“Under the current circumstances we’ve heard that our contributors have a lot on their plates at the moment and decided it was in the best interests of our volunteers and the organizations that depend on the standard to push out our release date,” said Mark Davis, President of the Consortium, in a statement.

Previously, Unicode 14.0 was scheduled for release in March 2021. This would specify the new emoji characters for that year. Then Davis said on Wednesday that the new version won‘t be out until September of 2021. This means the developers of iOS 15 won‘t have a final list of new emoji until the autumn, about the time Apple traditionally finishes work its operating system updates and releases them to the public.

New emoji coming in Unicode 13.0

Wednesday’s announcement by the Unicode Consortium doesn’t effect the emojis that will be coming to phones in 2020. Unicode 13.0 has already been approved, along with a new crop of emoji.

This year’s additions were unveiled in January. On the list are ninjas, a gender-neutral version of Santa Claus, a polar bear, bison and a bunch of other miscellaneous items.

These are likely to appear in iOS 14. Apple added the emoji from Unicode 12.0 to iOS 13.2, for example.

The Consortium is considering creating Unicode 13.1 which would include minor tweaks to the list of emoji. These would be just new combinations of current characters, like combining the cat emoji and black large square emoji into a black cat emoji. If this happens, the new offerings could go into handsets released in 2021.

Why is this so complicated?

Apple doesn’t decide on its own which emojis to include because these little emoticons are included in messages sent from iPhones to Androids, and vice versa. Windows and macOS devices use them too. And actual images aren‘t transferred — what is sent is a unicode that the receiving device translates back into a picture.

It’s necessary for computers made by a wide variety of companies, as well as applications for a range of operating systems, to agree on which unicode responds to which image. That’s what the Unicode Consortium does.