Express yourself: How to use Emoji on iOS and Mac

Sections: Features, How-To, iPhone OS, SDK and hacks, iPhone/iPod touch/iPad, Lion, Mac OS X, Operating Systems, Snow Leopard

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**Special Note** This post contains characters which may not display properly on all systems.  If you see blank boxes or odd strings of characters in the text, please try viewing this post on an iDevice running iOS 5 or Mac OS X 10.7+

How do you tell somebody you feel sick via text message? 😷 How do you “poo-poo” an idea without creating a public indecency incident? 💩 The standard set of emoticons is both limited and sort of boring after a while—your standard colon-dash-parenthesis and semicolon-dash-parenthesis express a fairly limited range of emotions. Luckily, Apple has built a whole set of expressions into iOS and OS X, so now you can let your feelings show without resorting to tired character combinations.

Express Yourself

Called Emoji, the graphic characters built into iOS and OS X (as well as other products like GMail and Windows Phone) got their start in Japan. The name literally means e-pictograph, and the characters are used primarily to express a range of emotions in addition to what standard emoticons offer. Emoji used to be tied to specific mobile phone carriers in Japan, but thanks to standardization they are now available for use across carriers/OSes around the world. This broad availability is a recent phenomenon, however, so be aware that not everybody will be able to read what you send.

Apple’s implementation of Emoji is broken out into five categories, including: People 💃, Nature 🌵, Objects 🍸, Places/Transportation 🚀, and Symbols🚭. There is also a Recently Used category that collects frequently used characters for easier access. Each category has at least two screens worth of characters, so be sure to swipe left/right to find the characters you want. The upcoming release of iOS 6 (scheduled for September), will also bring some additional Emoji characters.

How to access

Turning on Emoji characters is simple, though accessing the character chooser that lets you add the characters to messages can be more challenging. Below is a quick explanation to let you enable these characters on your various devices.

On iOS (iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touches):

Navigate to Settings->General->Keyboard, then choose International Keyboards. Scroll down the resulting list to find Emoji.

Once the new keyboard is added, you can access the character picker by tapping the globe icon in the lower left corner, which automatically switches the keyboard among the various keyboard layouts you have enabled (including the Emoji chooser).

On Mac OS X 10.7 (Emoji characters are not available by default in earlier versions):

Unlike iOS, OS X treats Emoji as a set of symbols rather than a keyboard choice. The characters are still grouped into the same categories, just without the Recently Used group (you can add characters to Favorites for quick access, though).

First, navigate to System Preferences->Keyboard, and make sure you have the “Show Keyboard & Character Viewers in menu bar” option checked.

When you want to insert an emoji character, simply open the character viewer in the menu bar and choose the character you want.


There you have it.  Now you can draw somebody a picture when sending them an email or text, or add some visual pizzazz to your status posts. Most smartphones and all recent Macs will be able to properly display the characters, so keep in mind who you’re sending to before relying on one of these characters to get a major point across.

Feel free to sound off in the comments with your favorite characters!

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