New emojis will be approved in late 2020, resulting in platform support in 2021.

With Unicode 14.0 delayed due to Coronavirus, a minor emoji release known as Emoji 13.1 will fill the gap for phone users in 2021.

Proposed new emojis for this interim release include Face In Clouds, Mending Heart, we well as new gender options for the bearded person emoji.

Oddly enough, the emoji delay was commonly reported as meaning 'no new emojis in 2021' even though Unicode announced at the same time:

“The Consortium is considering whether it is feasible to release emoji sequences in an Emoji 13.1 release”
“Such an Emoji 13.1 release would be in time for release on mobile phones in 2021”

It's worth noting that none of this has any impact on what's coming to devices in 2020.

Emoji 13.0, approved earlier this year, can be seen in the current Android 11 betas (with retro classics returning), and Apple has previewed some of the additions coming to iOS later this year.

👥 Emoji Decisions

The Unicode Technical Committee met in April 2020 (over Zoom, instead of the usual in-person meeting) with one decision on the agenda being whether a new Emoji 13.1 release should go ahead, or if all new emojis should wait until the next scheduled Unicode release in late 2021.

Disclaimer: Emojipedia is a voting member of the Unicode Consortium and was present for these discussions. Due to the nature of these meetings, all outcomes are published in minutes for the public, though the exact discussions are considered private.

Above: Unicode met in April 2020 'hosted virtually via Zoom'. From the minutes of UTC 163.

The choices facing Unicode and vendors in April of 2020 were:

a. Postpone any new emoji release until Unicode 14.0, meaning no new emojis on phones until 2022; or

b. Create an emoji release which did not require any new code points.

Option 'b' would limit the type and number of emojis which could be approved, but it would allow Unicode to address long-standing goals such as skin tone support for various couple emojis (eg 💑 👨‍❤️‍👨 👩‍❤️‍👩 👩‍❤️‍👨) as well as a number of other emojis that can be created using a sequence of existing code points.

As an example, Mending Heart has been proposed to use code points for ❤️ Red Heart + 🩹 Adhesive Bandage to create a heart with bandages over it.

The 13.1 release was authorized by consensus, meaning there will be new emojis coming to phones in 2021.

Above: Authorization of the release of Emoji 13.1 in the UTC minutes for April-May 2020.

2020 remains unaffected, with the 117 new emojis approved in January still coming to most phones throughout 2020, as originally planned.

❤️ Emoji 13.1

Emoji 13.1 will be released in October 2020, according to Unicode meeting minutes.

This is a change from recent years where releases have been made between March and June, allowing companies time to get their emoji updates ready by the Northern Hemisphere autumn/fall.

New emojis listed for Emoji 13.1 have a draft status, meaning these could change prior to release.

The draft candidates for the bearded person emoji would result in options for a bearded person, bearded man, and bearded woman, all with skin tone support. This is an expansion from the current emoji which only shows a bearded man.

Above: Draft candidates for Emoji 13.1. Images: Emojipedia Sample Image Collection.

Additionally, a new spiral-eyed face would fix a discrepancy where some platforms show this emoji - 😵 - with X eyes, and others show it with spirals

By creating a new emoji with spiral-eyes, the existing emoji could be uniformly changed to show X-eyes on all operating systems for better cross platform interoperability.

This kind of disambiguation hasn't previously been common in the emoji set, but can be useful where each interpretation is useful in its own right.

In the past, the more common approach has been where vendors converge on one design, which can also be helpful, but it often means the previous meaning is left out of the emoji set altogether.

Above: Over the years, this emoji has had different types of eyes on different platforms. Image: Vendors / Emojipedia composite.

📋 Resources

Unicode has now updated the draft candidate charts to reflect this new emoji release. Additionally, the provisional candidate charts now show delayed emojis that were held up as part of Emoji 14.0.

For example, a “thumb and index finger crossed” emoji was originally drafted for 2021, but as this requires a new code point, this remains part of the planned Emoji 14.0 update, but wouldn't now come to phones until 2022.

Above: Draft candidate chart from Unicode, showing a proposed code points, Google-designed sample images, and other proposed keywords.

The draft candidate charts show example images from Unicode, as well as sample keywords, and other documentation that may be used by vendors.

🤷 When?

Somewhat confusingly, the new Unicode schedule likely means that emojis approved in one year won't come to phones until the following year.

With Emoji 13.1 now set for release in October 2020, that means the new emojis it contains probably won't come to phones until around March 2021 at the earliest, and possibly September-November 2021 (the usual timeframe for major vendor updates) at the latest.

Above: Emoji releases will now be approved in one year, but likely not come to phones until the next year.

Whether vendors such as Apple or Google adjust their release schedules to provide emoji updates early in 2021, or keep them for major OS updates later in the year, is yet to be seen.

In recent years, Apple has notably held emoji updates for a specific release of iOS. In what has been perceived as a way to encourage users to update, iOS has recently followed the pattern of:

  • September: Major iOS update (eg iOS 14.0)
  • October: Bug fix and additional features (eg iOS 14.1) including new emojis

The question for Apple becomes whether users will see an emoji update coming to phones an entire year after being approved as being too long.

Separately, Android has its own challenges with Google now offering Pixel users emoji updates faster that other Android phones, but those stuck on other brands of Android phones often end up waiting months or years to see updates for new emoji support.

In a number of instances, apps on Android now use their own emoji designs which differ from the system. This include WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook, and Telegram for Android.

In practice, vendors rarely announce their software schedules this far ahead of time. We likely won't know exactly when the new emojis of 2021 will be supported until next year.

📱 What Now?

Let's not get too ahead of ourselves. The majority of smartphone users will still be awaiting the new 2020 emojis like bubble tea, or pinched fingers to come to their phones.

These are now available on Twitter and in the beta of Android 11, and coming to iOS, Windows and Samsung phones later in the year.

Above: 2020 emoji updates already on Android 11 beta, coming to a public release later in the year. Image: Google / Emojipedia composite.

As for Emoji 13.1, the final release will be made after a Unicode Meeting in October 2020.

We don't know when, but we do know there will be new emojis on phones in 2021.