While the proposals are still under review, Unicode Consortium president and co-founder Mark Davis said the chances are good that the new characters will be included in the next update, Unicode 8.0.
“It isn’t completely set in stone; we are still collecting feedback on the proposal. But I think it is very likely,” Daivs said in an email to the Washington Post.
Emoji, which were developed in 1999 and still retain their Japanese name, were initially supposed to depict characters with inhuman, cartoon-like complexions — for example, a yellow or orange color.
But as the use of emoji has widened to encompass much of the world, there has been increasing pressure to create characters that look like the people who use them.
The Unicode Consortium develops and maintains the software standard for how text and characters (including emoji) are represented in all languages on every device, including mobile phones and desktop computers. And the nonprofit corporation has faced pressure, including from the likes of Miley Cyrus, to act on the diversity issue.
The issue can’t be fixed unilaterally by device and software makers such as Apple or Microsoft.
In response to inquiries, Katie Cotton, Apple’s vice president of worldwide corporate communications, told MTV in a statement earlier this year that the company is working with the Consortium — of which Apple is a part — to update the emoji offerings for all platforms.
“We agree with you,” Cotton said. “Our emoji characters are based on the Unicode standard, which is necessary for them to be displayed properly across many platforms. There needs to be more diversity in the emoji character set, and we have been working closely with the Unicode Consortium in an effort to update the standard.”
On its Web site, the Consortium noted that the process of adding characters to Unicode can take years.
“There is a long development cycle for characters, so the sunglasses character was first proposed years before Unicode 7.0 was released. Any proposals under consideration will also take time to assess and develop,” the Consortium said.
So it’s unclear how long it would take for this new draft to be come a reality — if it happens at all — although there undoubtedly will be considerable pressure to act quickly.
The draft says the next update could include five options for skin tone based on a classification scheme developed by dermatologist Thomas B. Fitzpatrick.
“These characters have been designed so that even where diverse color images for human emoji are not available, readers can see what the intended meaning was,” the document adds.
Diversity modifications would apply to a finite group of characters — 151 at most. At a minimum, the characters that might be modified to reflect human skin color would be the ones that depict human faces; but they also could include emoji that depict human hands or smiley faces.
Users would potentially access the new palette of options by using a “long press,” which involves pressing and holding on a character to bring up a range of options.
On Tuesday, Davis discussed the hot-button issue of emoji diversity in a keynote address at the Internationalization & Unicode Conference in Silicon Valley.
[This post has been updated.]