Emojis are characters similar to any other alphabets and numbers. However, they do not appear in the standard keyboard layouts. Unicode Consortium, a non-profit organization, maintains the international character encoding standard for emoji and all other characters that you can type. This ensures that emojis maintain consistency across different devices and platforms, allowing users to type and share emojis seamlessly. However, you might have noticed that the same emoji appears differently across various applications and platforms. In this article, we explore various reasons on why a same emoji looks different across apps.
Example with Grinning Face Emoji
Each emoji symbol in Unicode has a unique hexadecimal codepoint. For example, Grinning Face emoji symbol is represented with U+1F600 in Unicode. Ideally, all apps/platforms should interpret this codepoint to same visual output like standard English letters like A or a. However, below is how the Grinning Face emoji looks on Windows and macOS in same Microsoft Word app and the browser display will look like this 😀.
Here are some of the reasons why apps show the emoji with different appearance.
1. Character Encoding for Apps and OS
As you know digital devices store characters in a binary format (0s and 1s). Character encoding is the mapping of each character (including emoji) from binary format to visually readably format. For example, this is called codepage in Windows operating system and Windows-1252 is the most commonly used codepage. However, these codepages are used only for the apps which do not support Unicode standardization as most apps follow UTF-8 or UTF-16 Unicode character encoding.
So, the emoji symbol will look different based on character encoding used by an app. The app can use the operating system’s setup, use its own setup or does not support emoji at all. In most cases, apps do not support Unicode standard will use the operating system’s character encoding based on the codepage. Note that you can also change the character encoding within apps like Microsoft Word.
2. Font Setup for Individual Apps
Besides character encoding, fonts give the actual graphical representation of text characters. Each font family consist of a set of glyphs or symbols that define the appearance of each character in a particular typeface. For example, Grinning Face will be changed as a big dark dot in Microsoft Excel when you use Webdings font. The same emoji will be changed to a floppy disk symbol when you change the font to Wingdings. As you can see, Microsoft Excel shows all emoji in black & white while Word shows them in color regardless of the fonts.
Though commonly used font families like Verdana, Calibri, etc. will show the emoji based with similar appearance, non-standard fonts can completely change the appearance. Remember that you can change the font to a standard font and make the symbol visible again as a Grinning Face.
3. Branding of Emoji by Corporates
This is the major reason why emoji looks different across apps. Corporate companies and design platforms deliberately design emojis with distinctive artistic interpretation. This is basically done to align with their overall branding and app’s user interface. For example, Apple, Google, Microsoft and Twitter (X) each have their own emoji design styles, resulting in large variations in color, shape, and expression. In addition, individual app developers also have the flexibility to interpret and display emojis in their own unique way.
Below is how the Grinning Face will look on different company’s platforms/apps.
|iOS, macOS, iPadOS, etc.
|Android, ChromeOS, etc.
4. Based on App Developer’s Design
Since the App Stores are controlled by Google and Apple, app developers need to follow the guidelines provided by these companies including the recommendations for emoji implementation. These guidelines include details on size, spacing, and stylistic elements, influencing how emojis appear on a given app. Developers may choose to follow these guidelines or deviate to some extent or follow Unicode standard leading to variations in the visual representation of emojis within an app.
5. Other Aspects
Besides the above factors, there are few additional reasons why an emoji looks different in certain apps.
- Unicode Consortium periodically releases new emoji updates, introducing new symbols and refining existing ones. Most apps and platforms need time to adopt these changes and the new emoji will look like a rectangle box indicating they are not supported. Another problem is that any changes in existing emoji design may not be adopted by all platforms. So, the interpretation of these updates can differ among platforms, contributing to variations in how emojis look.
- Digital devices use different rendering engines and display technologies. These variations can lead to differences in the way emojis are presented. Variations in font rendering, color management and display resolution can impact the visual appearance of emojis across applications.
So, the difference in emoji appearance across apps is a result of a combination of factors like corporate branding guidelines, app developers design, character encoding and font setup. Though Unicode assigns a unique codepoint for each emoji for standardization purpose, it’s those corporate platforms and app developers who interpret the same codepoint with different appearances. That’s why we see deviations on different operating systems like Windows, macOS, iOS and Android as well as in popular apps like Facebook, WhatsApp, X or Microsoft Word.