Emojis are a universal language. People around the world who speak hundreds of different languages send the little pictograms when words won’t do.
But there are some emojis that get lost in translation, especially between iPhone and Android users.
One example: the latest batch of emojis, including critical icons like the emoji, fingers crossing, and the shrugging person, were added to iPhones in late 2016 thanks to a series of software updates.
But currently, less than 4% of Android users can see them, according to analysis done by Jeremy Burge at Emojipedia.
And when an iPhone user sends them to most Android users, they see blank boxes instead of colourful emojis.
The reason why there’s an emoji gap between iPhone users and Android users is because Apple is great at getting its users to upgrade to the latest version of its software.
Unicode, the organisation that approves new emojis, has been creating new emoji on an annual basis recently. Google and Apple rapidly integrate the new emojis into their software, but Apple users actually download the new software, giving them the new emojis.
Android vendors, like Samsung or LG, aren’t as quick as Apple is to upgrade to the latest version of Android. In fact, according to Google’s own statistics, less than 1% of Android devices are running version 7.0 or higher — the version with the new avocado emoji.
Compare that to Apple, which has 84% of its users using iOS 10 or higher. The vast majority of iPhone users are seeing the new emojis.
It’s gotten so bad that some popular Android apps, like WhatsApp, are hardcoding in emoji support into their apps, instead of simply using the built-in operating system support. Burge says this approach “requires more effort from app developers” because “native emoji support is much simpler to support.”
Another side effect is that it means that Apple’s own emoji designs are spilling out into Android apps. For example, WhatsApp uses Apple’s emoji symbols — not Google’s.
There are Android phones that get regular updates, most notably, Google’s own Pixel, which will get the latest Android update as soon as possible for at least a few years. But right now, most of the more popular Android phones, such as Samsung’s, don’t have that same promise.
Which means, at least for heavy emoji users, Apple and Google are the phonemakers of choice.
“The answer for users is very clear: if you care about new emoji support, be careful which phone you purchase,” Burge writes.
“A phone that can’t see the 12+ months of new emojis is crippled as a communication device.”