A small decision made by Apple in 2016 has created a domino effect that has led some of its biggest competitors in the tech industry, including Samsung, Google, Microsoft, and Facebook, to make changes to their platforms make.
We are of course discussing Emoji.
An update released this week for Android users is changing the weapon emoji from a traditional metal-and-rifle type into a water pistol, according to Emojipedia, a widely respected emoji resource.
It basically turns the emoji from a weapon into a toy.
And none of this would have happened if Apple had not already decided in 2016 to introduce the water gun design.
"It was not until Apple had gone with their water gun design that we saw that other vendors were following suit," said Emojipedia founder Jeremy Burge to Business Insider.
"Apple clearly has the most sense when it comes to emoji designs," he continued.
Facebook will change its emoji
If you look at a graph of the same emoji from six top tech companies, you can see that tech companies followed Apple about a year after Apple's change:
There are two major tech companies left with the literal gun design, Facebook and Microsoft, but even that is changing.
Facebook plans to deliver a new image for the weapon emoji more in line with the Apple, Samsung and Android images, said a Facebook spokesperson Business Insider. The change is made in the interest of consistency, to avoid confusion, but the company plans to use consistency across different tech brands as a discussion topic with the Unicode consortium, the organization that oversees Emoji, the spokesman said.
Microsoft says "while we evolve our emojis to reflect our values and the feedback we've received." The company also tweeted a preview of its new water gun emoji as "a preview."
It's also worth noting that in 2013, Microsoft tried to make a ray-gun emoji its standard design, but it did not prevail with the rest of the industry.
"While Microsoft was technically the first with a non-weapon interpretation of this emoji, no other vendors followed their lead," said Burge, the emoji expert.
Activists discover the Emoji
The design for the Emoji weapon became a symbol of gun control in 2015 when an activist group began to organize weapons campaigns around the emoji.
In 2015, an anti-gun group called on Apple to completely erase the Emoji weapon from user keyboards. They have been linked to New York's Against Gun Violence, an activist group.
Although the campaign demanded that Apple remove and not redesign emoji, it can still be seen as a victory for campaign organizers.
"Of course I see this as a success for the iPhone disarming campaign launched in the summer of 2015, and I welcome the change," said Leah Barrett, who was involved in the campaign, to Business Insider. (She now lives overseas, the New York's Against Gun Violence did not respond to an e-mail.)
The campaign was designed to encourage Americans to inform their MPs about the issue and to push for background checks and a semi-automatic ban on rifles , When Apple made the switch to emoji in 2016, some weapons lawyers tried to organize a social media protest.
"Of course we understood that emojis per se did not affect the nation's armed forces, we used the ubiquitous pistol emoji to draw attention to the gun violence that kills over 36k and injured over 89k Americans all year," continued she continued.
Gun violence remains a hot topic in the United States, especially after a recent outbreak of mass shootings. Yet, the fact that tech companies are changing design, along with all the associated meetings and work, shows that Silicon Valley now understands the issue.
Which emoji will I see?
Emoji is overseen by the Unicode Consortium, an organization that counts companies like Apple, Google, and Facebook as members.
It basically defines what an emoji is, and lets the companies design their own little pictures for each symbol, so each company has to develop its own weapons emoji design.
An emoji like this looks different on different platforms. It's the same way fonts on Microsoft Windows differ from MacOS.
But the difference between the platforms can cause confusion when a person gives a message to someone they think sends a water pistol and comes out as a weapon on the other side.
It's a problem that Rob Price of Business Insider 2016 noticed when Apple changed its emoji for the first time. "Apple, by radically altering the design of an existing emoji, could cause widespread confusion across platforms," he wrote.
"And even more disturbingly, it will retroactively change the meaning of countless historical messages and texts, setting a dangerous precedent with unpredictable results," he continued.
Although Google and Samsung have changed their emoji designs, many of their users are on older software, which means that emoji misunderstandings can still occur. The new Android Squirt Gun is equipped with the latest version, which is currently installed by less than 5% of users. Although all major technology companies converge on the same meaning, there is still a risk of misunderstanding.
"For Android, many users still see Android designs from 2016. The same goes for Samsung," said Burge.