Why Apple needs to fix the medical mask emoji ASAP [Opinion]

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The medical mask emoji needs an update for 2020.
The medical mask emoji has way too much in common with the disappointed face emoji.
Photo: Apple/Cult of Mac

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, when wearing a face mask slows the spread of this disease, Apple really must change its medical mask emoji. It seems like a small tweak, but it’s important.

Currently, the face shown is unhappy about having to wear a mask. The design needs to show the person is glad to do their part.

Medical mask emoji is out of touch with 2020

It’s true, the medical mask emoji is only a symbol. But symbols matter. They are the basis of all human understanding. Symbols are how we communicate. And communication is the most powerful tool we have. And, right now, Apple is kind of misusing that power to suggest that face masks are something to be disappointed about.

Note the similarities between the face mask emoji and the disappointed face emoji. It’s clear, the wearer is unhappy under the mask. That’s not criticism — it’s understandable how the design ended up that way. This emoji has been around since at least 2015, and was once used to indicate that someone was very sick — either a real illness or a bad case of Idontfeellikegoingtoworkitis..

Then 2020 happened. A novel coronavirus killed close to 600,000 people and the total grows daily. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says, “cloth face coverings are a critical tool in the fight against COVID-19 that could reduce the spread of the disease.”

Apple needs to get on board with a small but important change. Update the face mask emoji to include someone who’s happy to be protecting the health of the people around them. Then people can use this emoji to send the message they mean to.

Fixing this emoji would be easy

The process for adding emoji is surprisingly complex. It takes years, and is mostly out of Apple’s control. Which ones are available is determined by the Unicode Consortium. But just updating the look of the face mask emoji wouldn’t require going through that process. Apple simply needs to change the eyes. The mask covers everything else.

And the iPhone-maker can do that. The Unicode Consortium specifies basic descriptions of all emoji, but it’s up to Apple, Google, Facebook, Twitter and the makers of other messaging apps to determine exactly what each one looks like. And all the Consortium has said is that this emoji must be of someone wearing a medical mask.

Apple should swap in some happy eyes when it releases iOS 14, and this emoji would start sending a message people need to hear in 2020.

Just a couple of suggestions for an updated mask emoji.
Wouldn’t one of these be a better fit for the medical mask emoji in 2020?
Photo: Apple/Cult of Mac

Friday is World Emoji Day 2020. There’s no better time to start this change.