Above: These flags have been approved by Unicode.
This new Emoji Tag Sequence functionality allows for a wider range of locations to be supported for flags within Unicode.
Unicode co-founder and president Mark Davis told Emojipedia:
With Emoji 5.0 we’ll be able to represent the flags of country subdivisions as emoji — with England, Scotland, and Wales leading the way. Thanks to the many people behind the scenes in the Emoji Subcommittee and Unicode Technical Committee for their perseverance in developing a general mechanism for this.
Previously, flags of the UK Home Nations haven't been eligible for emoji status, as the relevant ISO standard lists the 🇬🇧 United Kingdom as one single entity.
Above: Emoji Tag Sequence codes to be used for the new flags.
Under the new "tag sequence" mechanism, subregion / subdivision2 flags are possible for the first time within Unicode, and the sequences "gbeng", "gbsct" and "gbwls" have been approved as the first three additions to the standard.
End-users should see the flags appear for insertion like any other flag emoji on the emoji keyboard, without any of these codes appearing.
Above: WhatsApp includes these flags already, but using a non-standard implementation which does not work on other platforms.
Above: The Ulster Banner was the flag of Northern Ireland from 1924–1973 and still used for some sporting teams.
While a sequence for Northern Ireland could be documented by Unicode, the lack of a consistent flag to use would likely leave vendors omitting this.
If Northern Ireland were to resolve the flags issue, this may help the case for documenting it within the Unicode standard.
Thousands of new flags are now technically possible — but only for valid Unicode subdivisions.
Unicode provides a list of states, provinces, cantons, and other subdivisions3 which are now eligible for flag support for the first time.
These subdivisions include locations such as Texas (USA), Normandy (France), and Catalonia (Spain).
Above: Examples of flags which are valid under the latest Unicode Emoji 5.0 release.
To claim full Emoji 5.0 support, vendors would need to include all documented emoji flags (At the time of writing, this is the existing country flags + England, Scotland, Wales).
The much larger list of subdivisions is a point of reference for other flags that are now possible.
Emojipedia search data shows the top four missing locale flags to be:
These make up the vast majority of demand of flags that don't currently have an emoji representation.
It's possible that future Unicode releases will add other emoji subdivision flags, if sufficient demand is shown, and a willingness from vendors to support them.
A release date has not yet been announced for Emoji 5.0, though it is expected within the first half of this year.
In practice, this means users are likely to see support for these flags on iOS and Android4 devices in the second half of 2017.
Windows does not support existing emoji flags (choosing to show a regional indicator pair of letters instead — eg "US" for United States). As such, it's unlikely these new flags would be supported on Windows. Other platforms with custom emoji images such as Facebook or Twitter are likely to add support in a reasonable amount of time. ↩