iPhone emoji update boasts more diverse messaging icons, features Hong Kong and Macau flags

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 09 April, 2015, 12:06pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 09 April, 2015, 12:06pm

The latest version of Apple's operating system for iPhone and iPad includes a much-anticipated new emoji keyboard, with a more diverse selection of human icons.

The iOS 8.3 update was rolled out to developers in late February but is only now becoming available to the general public.

Emojis – small picture icons which are widely used in iMessage, WhatsApp and on Twitter – have long been criticised for only having icons of white people, apart from a small number of non-white icons which draw heavily on ethnic stereotypes.

“Of the more than 800 emojis, the only two resembling people of colour are a guy who looks vaguely Asian and another in a turban,” read a petition on posted last year which called for more diversity.

The Unicode Consortium, which governs emojis and ensures that they work across platforms and devices, announced in November 2014 that the next edition would include human icons with a diverse selection of skin tones. Following that announcement, Apple promised to introduce the new emoji on desktop and mobile as soon as possible.

“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,” Apple’s head of PR Katie Cotton wrote at the time.

When the new set of emoji were revealed earlier this year however, they were not universally loved. Many Asian users complained about the addition of a bright yellow skin tone, which some said smacked of racial insensitivity.

“It looks like the yellow people have jaundice,” one Chinese commenter wrote on Sina Weibo, according to Quartz.

Another asked, “Are yellow people really that yellow?”

Apple said in a statement that the yellow tone was intended to be ethnically neutral.

The new emoji keyboard also includes a greater selection of country and territory flags, including ones for Hong Kong and Macau.

Aside from new icons, the update adds new languages for Siri, and a variety of bug fixes and improvments.

Apple has also released an update to its desktop operating system OS X Yosemite. The OS X 10.10.3 includes the new emoji keyboard, and a new Photos app more similar to that used on iOS.