What is an Emoji?

A history of the animated images.

By on July 12, 2013

Feeling excited, sad or nervous? No matter what emotion you’re experiencing, there is a good chance there is an emoji on your smartphone or tablet that can express that sentiment without words. Many friends are getting creative and having full conversations with one another with emoji-only messages.

Emoji are a set of animated images that smartphone and tablet users can include in their text messages or emails. Meaning “picture word,” emoji were originally created in 1999 in a Japanese research facility for mobile service providers to help limit bandwidth for the growing demands of the 80 million Japanese mobile device users. Emoji provided users with the ability to express emotions while staying under the 160 Twitter character limit.

While some may confuse emoji and emoticons, the two are actually different. Emoticons are a group of characters used to represent an emotion such as a colon and closed parentheses to make a happy face :), whereas emoji are a set of predefined pictures with different meanings. Emoticons must be created by the sender, but emoji are already programmed into a device or app.

Many platforms are introducing their own versions of the popular emoji. Facebook has its own messenger app which includes emoji-style icons for friends to send to one another. Google also announced that more than 800 emoji would be available on its Google Hangouts feature; a platform where users can continue previously started conversations whether they are on their computers or mobile devices.

Once exclusive to iOS devices, emoji are now available for Android-based devices as well. Users can download the Verizon Messages app on their Android device to send and receive emoji.