Beware the Pitfalls of Emoji Use Across Platforms

Not all emoji are created equal, especially if you're messaging a friend with a different kind of phone.

The Unicode Consortium, the group overseeing emoji standards across platforms, provides a description for each emoji, such as a "grinning face with smiling eyes." From there, Apple, Google and Microsoft, which oversee the three biggest mobile platforms, are free to put their own design touches on the emoji before deploying them to users, which accounts for the variations in emoji design.

While it may seem harmless, the emoji differences have the potential to cause some major confusion when messaging across platforms.

Researchers from the University of Minnesota's GroupLens Lab studied 22 of the most popular human-looking emoji and how they appear on smartphones from Apple, Google, Microsoft, LG and Samsung. More than 300 participants were then asked to rank a randomly selected subset of 15 emoji variations using a scale of minus-5 (strongly negative) to 5 (strongly positive).

Apple’s version of the "grinning face with smiling eyes" emoji carried a slightly negative emotion overall, according to survey results. On average, respondents rated the versions from the other companies as conveying a more positive feeling, with Google's emoji averaging the highest result with slightly more than 4 points on the 5-point scale.

"Overall, we found that if you send an emoji across platform boundaries (e.g., an iPhone to a Nexus), the sender and the receiver will differ by about 2.04 points on average on our -5 to 5 sentiment scale. However, even within platforms, the average difference is 1.88 points," Hannah Miller, a doctoral candidate who worked on the study, wrote in a blog post.

The lesson here: You may not want to rely on that emoji to tell the entire story.

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