May 21, 2013, 6:14 AM — iPhones have had robust support for emoji, the Japanese-derived system of communicating with little pictures and symbols, since at least early 2010. Android has some emoji, but not nearly all of the semi-standard set.
Emoji is like rhubarb pie: either you get it and you kind of love it, or it just seems a bit off and weird to you. But if you're going to try it, you should be able to make it work.
But trying to send cross-platform emoji can lead to missed characters and quirky symbols—your attempt to express your current circumstances with "Horse head, Eiffel Tower, soccer ball, 24-hour store, old-time pistol" just won't come across. Unless—unless!—you have both taken a dive into the bold new world of Google Hangouts.
Google Hangouts, as it is known today, is not the group video chat "Hangouts" that existed only in Google+. Hangouts are the new universal chat system across Google products, which replace Google Talk, Google+ Messenger, and a few other products (and soon to incorporate, if not replace, Google Voice, too). You can enable the new Hangouts in Gmail, grab the really nifty Chrome app, or install Hangouts on Android or iPhone and iPad.
When you're using Hangouts, you have access to more than 800 hand-drawn emoji. Some are really quite great. But the main thing is that they work. iPhone owners see the native emoji they're used to seeing, Android users get Google's new hand-drawn stuff, and anyone you're hanging out with in Gmail or through the Chrome app see the same emoji, too. I don't know if Google was on a mission to unify all the modern fiefdoms of semi-cute pictorial expression, but that's what they ended up doing.
Here is proof. I, of the Android 4.1 phone, can send my friend Nick some of the select emoji that work on Android (after enabling an add-on dictionary, that is). I type out "sailboat," and Google's auto-complete offers up a sailboat image, which I tap. Sailboat, church, "factory" (which turns out as a peace sign), golf. He sees those symbols. But he sends me back an entire emoji short story, and it looks like this on my Android phone:
And, just because it's humorous, here's what the emoji look like in Google Voice, my text message service, in a web page view:
But over a Hangout, the emoji come through. They look different on iPhone and Android, but they come through, and everybody gets the strange story being told.
So if you have a spouse who wants to trade emoji and is frustrated by your incompatibility, or friends who mock your inability to understand their "Barbell, anchor, sad-looking Santa, Chinese flag, two yellow people holding hands" expressions, consider getting them into Hangouts. Hangouts are where emoji can hang out and do whatever!