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Is Cross-Platform Emoji Miscommunication a Real Issue?

April 12, 2016 - Written By Mihai Matei

For many mobile users, emojis have become a very popular way to get a point across, which means that, on the most part, emojis manage to fulfill their purpose as ideograms. However, while emojis may have been created to make the messaging experience more fun and / or faster and accurate, a new study shows that Emojis could lead to miscommunication in electronic messaging, especially in cross-platform scenarios where the same type of emoji looks different on each platform. Taking the “grinning face with smiling eyes” emoji as the benchmark for the study, GroupLens Research has determined that the same emoji can have a different meaning for users on different smartphone platforms, which can obviously lead to miscommunication.

Technically speaking, your smartphone treats an emoji as it would treat any other keyboard character. This means that the character also has a font, and this “font” (or emoji design) differs not only from platform to platform but also from one type / brand of smartphone to another. In other words, Apple’s “grinning face with smiling eyes” emoji doesn’t look the same as Google’s emoji, much like Samsung’s emoji is also very different from Google’s or HTC’s and so on. This means that the emoji you send from your device will be “translated” once it reaches the recipient’s inbox, and assuming that the recipient is using a different phone or platform than you do, the emoji will most likely look different too.

Interestingly enough, the study shows that one of the biggest and oddest discrepancies in emoji translation takes place between iOS users and the rest of platforms. According to GroupLens Research, the “grinning face with smiling eyes” emoji has a different meaning for Apple users compared to those who send emojis from Microsoft, Samsung, LG, or Google devices. In the Apple camp, the aforementioned emoji appears to have a slightly negative connotation expressing sadness or madness, whereas the same emoji translates positively (happiness, excitement) on the other platforms. This can obviously lead to issues in communication, which isn’t ideal especially since more platforms including Facebook and Samsung have continued to add emoji (or emoji reactions) support to their services. Fortunately, GroupLens will continue to research the matter and investigate how people from other cultures interpret emojis, hoping that fully understanding these discrepancies will help in “developing the next generation of language technologies”.