Google’s creative director for emoji Jennifer Daniel has joined the Unicode Technical Committee where she wondered, what’s the deal with the handshake emoji? Why isn’t there skin tone support? She says, “There was a desire to make it happen, and it was possible to make it happen, but the group appeared to be stuck on how to make it happen.”
She also submitted paperwork to Unicode in November 2019 to have the multi-skin handshake considered for inclusion. The idea explained how to make 25 different skin tones shake hands in different ways. However, encoding anything will take a long time; Jennifer explains that making a new emoji can take up to two years. Although a standard one-tone handshake emoji already existed, this addition would actually require the creation of two new emoji hands (a right hand in all the various skin tone shades and a left hand in all the various skin tone shades) in order to “make the ‘old’ handshake new again,” as Jennifer explains.
She explained, “Every Unicode character has to be encoded; it’s like a language, with a set of rules that are communicated from a keyboard to a computer so that what you see on your screen looks the way it’s supposed to. This is called binary — or all the ones and zeros behind the scenes that make up everything you see on the internet.”
“Every letter you are reading on this screen is assigned a code point. The Letter A? It’s Unicode code point U+0041, Jennifer says. When you send a word with the letter “A” to someone else, this code is what ensures they will see it.” “So when we want to send a ????, which maps to U+1f926, that code point must be understood on the other end regardless of what device the recipient is using,” she says.
When an emoji can be used in several ways, such as for different genders or skin tones, the coding becomes more complicated. “If emoji are letters, consider how many accents marks you can put on a letter. Adding more information to emojis, such as skin tone, gender, or other customization choices such as color, becomes more difficult.” When it came to adding skin tone to the handshake emoji, someone had to come up with a solution that worked under the constraints of how characters are encoded.
Besides the actual coding, COVID-19 added new hurdles. Jennifer had proposed the emoji in November 2019 with the expectation it would land on devices in 2021, but because of COVID-19, all Unicode deployments were delayed six months which we should be assumed to see in 2022 with Unicode 14.0.