Apple made a controversial change in 2016 - but now all of Silicon Valley is playing catch-up
- Apple changed the design of the gun emoji into a squirt gun back in 2016.
- At the time, it was a controversial choice, but tech companies have since followed suit.
- The latest companies to redesign their gun emojis are Facebook and Microsoft, which announced the upcoming changes this week.
A small decision that Apple made back in 2016 has spurred a domino effect that has pushed some of its biggest competitors in the tech industry, including Samsung, Google, Microsoft, and Facebook, to make changes to their platforms.
We're discussing emoji, of course.
An update rolling out to Android users this week changes the gun emoji from a traditional, metal-and-bullets sort of gun into a squirt gun, according to Emojipedia, a widely respected emoji resource.
Basically, it turns the emoji from a weapon into a toy.
And none of it would have happened if Apple hadn't first decided to introduce the water pistol design back in 2016.
"It was only after Apple went with their water pistol design that we started to see other vendors following suit," Emojipedia founder Jeremy Burge told Business Insider.
"Apple clearly has the most mindshare when it comes to emoji designs," he continued.
Facebook will change its emoji
Looking at a chart of the same emoji from six top tech companies, you can see that tech companies started following Apple's lead about a year after Apple made its change:
There are two big tech companies left with the literal gun design, Facebook and Microsoft, but even that's changing.
Facebook plans to provide a new image for the gun emoji more in line with the Apple, Samsung, and Android images, a Facebook spokesperson told Business Insider. The change is going to be made in the interest of consistency, to prevent confusion, but the company plans to bring consistency across different tech brands up as a discussion topic with the Unicode Consortium, the organization that oversees emoji, the spokesperson said.
Microsoft says it's "in the process of evolving our emojis to reflect our values and the feedback we've received." The company also tweeted out a preview of its new water-gun emoji as "a preview."
It's also worth highlighting that back in 2013, Microsoft was trying to make a ray gun emoji its default design, but it didn't catch on with the rest of the industry.
"While Microsoft was technically first with a non-weapon interpretation of this emoji, no other vendors followed their lead," Burge, the emoji expert, said.
Activists discover the emoji
In 2015, an anti-gun group called on Apple to completely delete the gun emoji from user keyboards. They were associated with New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, an activist group.
Although the campaign called for Apple to remove the emoji, not redesign it, it can still be seen as a victory for the organizers of the campaign.
"Of course, I do consider this to be a success for the 'Disarm the iPhone campaign' conducted in the summer of 2015 and I welcome the change," Leah Barrett, who was involved with the campaign, told Business Insider. (She lives overseas now; New Yorkers Against Gun Violence did not respond to an email.)
The campaign was designed to activate Americans to contact their elected representatives about the issue and to push for background checks and a ban on semi-automatic rifles. When Apple made the change to the emoji in 2016, some guns rights activists tried to organize a social media protest.
"We of course understood that emojis per se don't affect the nation's level of gun violence. We used the ubiquitous pistol emoji as a way to bring attention to the gun violence crisis that kills over 36k and wounds over 89k Americans every year," she continued.
Gun violence remains a hot-button issue in the United States, especially after a recent rash of mass shootings. But still, the fact that the tech companies are changing a design - along with all the meetings and work that goes along with it - shows the level of consciousness that Silicon Valley now has about the issue.
Which emoji will I see?
Basically, it defines what an emoji is, and lets the companies design their own little pictures for each symbol, which is why each company has to come up with it's own gun emoji design.
So an emoji, like this one , looks different on different platforms. It's sort of like how fonts are different on Microsoft Windows versus MacOS.
But the difference between platforms can cause confusion if one person texts someone a message thinking they're sending a squirt gun and it comes out as a gun on the other side.
It's an issue Business Insider's Rob Price noted in 2016 when Apple first changed its emoji. "Apple, by changing an existing emoji's design so radically, could cause widespread confusion across platforms," he wrote.
"And more worryingly, it will retroactively change the meaning of countless historic messages and texts - setting a dangerous precedent with unpredictable results," he continued.
Even though Google and Samsung have changed their emoji designs, many of their users are on older software, meaning that emoji miscommunications can still happen. The new Android squirt gun comes with the latest version, which less than 5% of users are currently have installed - so even though all the big tech companies seem to be converging on the same meaning, there's still a chance for miscommunication.
"For Android, many users are still seeing Android designs from 2016. The same goes for Samsung," Burge said.
We are in the process of evolving our emojis to reflect our values and the feedback we've received. Here's a preview: pic.twitter.com/BlB3yYTSht- Microsoft (@Microsoft) April 25, 2018
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