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Unicode update lets you say 'spider,' 'dark glasses' in pictures

A new version of Unicode supports emoji, currency symbols and historic languages

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Unicode, the character-encoding standard that underpins a vast amount of the Internet and many computing applications, has been updated to include an additional 250 "emoji" and several other updates.

The system provides a consistent way for computer software around the world to handle and transmit characters, so for example an "A" is always an "A" and a "$" always a "$" in any supporting application. Since its launch in the early '90s, it has grown to encompass most of the world's languages.

The latest version, 7.0, brings hundreds of new "emoji," which are the small pictorial representations of things like a smiling face, a thumbs-up or a shining sun. Originally developed in Japan for use on cellphones, they have become popular worldwide, especially with teens.

Among the new emoji in Unicode 7.0 are a spider, dark sunglasses, a hammer, an airplane arriving, a rocket and a satellite.

It's unknown when or if the new symbols will be available for use on cellphones. For that to happen, font updates will have to be provided by Apple, Google, Microsoft and other phone software makers.

Also included are new symbols for the Russian ruble and the Azerbaijani manat and a host of other symbols, historical scripts and updates to existing scripts. The Unicode consortium, which keeps the standard, said the additions support "written languages of North America, China, India, other Asian countries, and Africa."

Before Unicode, different countries or language groups had their own text encoding standards.

The problem became apparent to end users with the widespread introduction of the World Wide Web. Pages written in one standard would sometimes be misinterpreted by a browser as another standard, leading to a page full of gibberish and requiring the user to manually select the right option.

Still today, many Web browsers have an "encoding" menu that allows users to make this selection but, thanks to Unicode, it's rarely required.

Martyn Williams covers mobile telecoms, Silicon Valley and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is martyn_williams@idg.com



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