The evolution of emoji and our digital communication

Wouldn’t it be nice if your emoji actually looked like you? Up until just last week, if you wanted to add cute smiling faces (or frowny faces) to your mobile messages, you were limited to little characters who generally speaking only looked like a small portion of the world’s overall population (you know, with skin tone seemingly inspired by The Simpsons cartoon).


But if you own an iPhone, that has all changed with the latest update to iOS 8.3, which adds a range of skin tones for our ever-changing moods and looks. (In fact more than 300 new emojis in total were released* and this is the hard work resulting from the Unicode Consortium.)

According to a recent story in The Independent, “a long press on any of the default yellow faces brings up a list of other options, allowing for people to select from one of five different skin tones.” So, now there are six different smiling faces, angry faces, thumbs up and many more. (Also coming soon you will find an emoji equivalent of “Live Long and Prosper” for all the Star Trek fans out there. And if you use Twitter, new Star Wars-themed emoji are available now.)

It’s not perfect, but it’s a pretty good start. Given the popularity of emoji in our written communication – did you know the heart emoji (♥) was reportedly the most written “word” of 2014? – it is no surprise that this form of communication will continue to evolve and grow. We fully expect Android and Windows Phone to soon follow suit with equivalent emoji options for their users – no one wants to be left out!

Emoji alone may not be enough to satisfy our constant need to communicate with one another. In fact, some of you out there may be old enough to remember that AT&T (back when it was still “Bell System”) used to encourage consumers to “Reach out and touch someone.” For the youngsters in the audience, we swear we are not making this stuff up! Putting aside the slightly creepy connotations of that old slogan, we wanted to draw your attention to a new mobile app that is seeking to expand the way we think about our digital (and specifically non-verbal) communications with one another.

Say hello to the new “Hug” app for iOS, from a pair of ex-Googlers and brothers who want to give mobile users a different way to stay in touch that goes beyond the simple emoticon.

“With Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp we’re constantly trying to keep in touch. But along the way we’ve lost the physical touch. With Hug we’re hoping to change that.” Petter Prinz, Hug’s co-founder and CEO, recently explained to The Next Web.

You can see how it should work here:

The idea is simple enough. Using the app and the device’s built-in proximity sensor, you place your iPhone next to your chest for the length of time that you want to “hug” someone (in seconds, ok?), and then you pick your friend or friends that you want to receive that digital embrace. The app sends the virtual hug to your recipient who gets to “feel” the hug by placing his/her phone next to him/herself. Cute idea, right?

In our private tests (yes, I made my teens try it out on one another’s iPhones), the app sort of worked. It only vibrated the device at the initiation of the hug – not throughout the hug as described – and the app would not properly sync with their Facebook friends list. But, it does deliver the hug to the person you specify – both users need to have the app on their phone for it to work.

Will this new app replace the emojis that today’s text-crazed teens adore? Probably not. Will the future of how we communicate with one another digitally continue to evolve and change? You bet your app it will.

Hug is available for iOS today, and a version for Android users is in the works. You can learn more on the Hug website.

* But for those who were expecting to find a certain expressive middle-finger emoji with this new release, we’re sorry to say that you may be disappointed. It is still missing from the emoji lexicon – for now. No word yet on the Taco emoji, either.

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