A Brief History Of The Emoji

Discover the origin of all your favorite smartphone symbols.

At this point, it’s hard to imagine a world in which our text and social media messages couldn’t be accented with tiny, colorful images. These symbols – known as emoji – comprise a language that lets us quickly express emotions that can’t be captured by text alone. But how exactly did this beloved image-language come to be?

Quick answer: Emojis first appeared in the late 1990s, when a Japanese mobile service provider transformed emoticons into miniature pictures. In 2010, emojis finally arrived in the U.S., making an official appearance on Apple iPhones in 2011.

Man with smartwatch selects emoji

The beginning

The development of emoji as we know them began in the late 1990s. Classic emoticons – think :) and :( – had already been in use on pagers for some time. But prominent Japanese mobile service provider NTT DoCoMo took the idea of emoticons a step further by assembling a team to design miniature images for use with a new mobile web platform. The result? The first set of emoji. Each measured 12 x 12 pixels, and there were 176 – some of which are still in use today, albeit with a considerably more modern look.

From curiosity to global phenomenon

Although the original emoji became wildly popular in Japan, it took years for the language to make its way overseas. In 2010, however, the emoji language was adopted into Unicode, which is an internationally embraced standard that assigns virtually every individual character in every language a unique number, so that they can be displayed on computers and other devices. It was after this adoption that Apple managed to incorporate emoji into the iPhone in 2011. And much like the Japanese users who first enjoyed emoji, Apple’s customers took full advantage of the language, helping catapult the tiny images toward international fame.

A new way to communicate

Now, every smartphone comes standard with emoji capability, as the miniscule images have become a fundamental element of everyday human communication. If you’ve yet to dip a toe into the world of emoji, get started with Straight Talk, where you can find the best phones, the best networks, and the best no-contract deals in wireless.