Apple Color Emoji represents a significant milestone in both the history of type technology and character standardization.
Of course color fonts are nothing new, with overprinting techniques in use from the earliest days of movable metal type. In digital typography layering has long been used to achieve multicolor results and color bitmap fonts have been around a while. However, Mac OS X Lion and the inclusion of the Apple Color Emoji font represent the first time a modern operating system has included both support and a showcase color font. Although the technology is basic, with color bitmaps included at two sizes in a proprietary “sbix” table, in years to come, as color fonts gain traction, we’ll look back to 2011 as the year it all began.
Of even more significance is the fact that the glyphs included in the font are Unicode encoded. In an effort initiated by Google and with significant help from Apple and Microsoft, 722 Emoji symbols were included in the recently published Unicode 6.0 standard, putting Emoji on par with the Latin alphabet and other writing systems encoded in Unicode. This means messages and documents containing Emoji are fully searchable and indexable, and Unicode Emoji fonts are included with Windows Phone 7.5 and the Windows 8 Developer Preview. The encoding effort was not without controversy, but effectively legitimizes nontraditional forms of written expression, and opens the door for the encoding of other symbols, including those found in popular symbol encoded fonts like Wingdings and Webdings.
As to the design itself, it’s more than adequate, the symbols are friendly and legible, but in reality the design isn’t all that important. Of all the fonts issued in 2011 this is the one we’ll all come back to in ten or twenty years as clearly being of the most historical significance.
Si Daniels is Lead Program Manager for fonts at Microsoft Corp.
Occupy Wall Street image from Intro to Narratives in Emoji 101.