World Emoji Day happens on July 17 every year — but why? The holiday’s story takes a circuitous path through Apple history, tying together Mac OS X Jaguar, calendar software, Japanese cellphone carriers, Macworld Expo and Emojipedia creator Jeremy Burge.
World Emoji Day starts with Mac OS X
In 2002, Mac OS X had only been out for a year. It ran slow even on the fastest Macs and was highly unreliable, so most people dual-booted with Mac OS 9.
A lot of today’s familiar Apple software hadn’t been released yet. Safari, iChat, Keynote and even the Calculator were yet to see the light of day.
Another notable omission was any sort of calendar app, but that would change on Wednesday, July 17, 2002, at Macworld New York. During the introduction of Mac OS X 10.2 Jaguar, Apple introduced the original Mac calendar app, iCal.
iCal arrives in Mac OS X 10.2 Jaguar
Rewatching the original OS X Jaguar demo, iCal looks like every calendar app you’ve ever used. However, this was a revolutionary user interface and feature set for 2002. More than 40% of homes in the United States still didn’t have a computer — so the concept of keeping separate calendars for different categories of events, seeing how events overlap on a timeline, and subscribing to a calendar that updates automatically over the internet were all novel ideas that Apple CEO Steve Jobs had to explain to the audience.
Mac OS X Jaguar was a big release, though it wasn’t until the next version, Panther, that you could feasibly use your Mac entirely in Mac OS X.
Apple’s iPhone Easter egg: 9:41
Whenever Apple needs to put a date or time inside a screenshot or marketing video, it’s always a little Easter egg. Every iPhone advertisement uses the time 9:41, because that’s the exact minute Jobs introduced the iPhone. (Every Apple Watch is set to 10:09 for the same reason.)
While Apple programmed iCal to show today’s date in the Dock, the app needed a default icon. Apple settled on July 17, the date iCal was introduced alongside Mac OS X Jaguar.
Emoji find their way into everyday life
The first emoji as we know them today were a popular feature of Japanese cellphones in the early 2000s, but there was no standard for them anywhere else. In the United States, we were too busy being spammed by flashy banner ads all over the internet for DOWNLOADABLE EMOTICON PACKS! which you might feasibly be able to use on internet forums or AOL Instant Messenger — if the downloads were legit and didn’t wreak havoc on your PC. That is to say, they were nowhere to be seen on your flip phone anywhere else.
With iPhone OS 2.2, Apple added an emoji keyboard to accommodate the Japanese market. But it was only enabled if you had a Japanese SIM card in your phone. It wasn’t until iOS 5 that emoji could be turned on globally. And they really started spreading like wildfire with iOS 6 in 2012.
Mark the date
For the calendar emoji, Apple of course went with the Easter egg date of July 17, tying it back to the introduction of iCal. While a few platforms went with different significant dates, nearly all coalesced to July 17 for the sake of consistency.
So when Emojipedia’s Burge decided to create World Emoji Day, he went with the emojiest date he could find: July 17.
Tracing back to the very beginning, who’s ultimately to blame for World Emoji Day falling on July 17? Whoever at IDG decided to schedule Macworld New York 2002 for July 15 to 19 … and whoever scheduled Apple’s keynote for Wednesday.