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Apple's Switch to Squirt Gun Emoji Triggers Flood of Emotions

By Richard Adhikari
Aug 3, 2016 4:21 PM PT
apple-switches-gun-emoji-to-water-pistol

Apple earlier this week announced its decision to change the gun emoji in iOS 10, to be released this fall. It plans to substitute an image of a green-and-orange squirt gun for the existing image of a black pistol.

The new version of the gun is one of more than 100 new and redesigned emoji characters that will be available in iOS 10.

The change appears to be a reflection of Apple's stance against gun violence.

The company earlier this year led the fight to get the Unicode Consortium, which specifies the representation of text in modern software products and standards, to reject an emoji depicting a rifle.

News of Apple's emoji change has sparked a debate.

The Sound and the Fury

The image replacement could cause widespread confusion by retroactively changing the meaning of historic messages and texts, setting a dangerous precedent, critics have argued.

There could be cross-platform confusion too. A user might choose Apple's squirt gun emoji to send a playful message, but a recipient using a different platform might see a more realistic-looking gun emoji displayed, implying a threat.

The anti-gun group New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, which last year criticized Apple for offering a gun emoji, has claimed the image change as a victory.

Apple's Motivation

"I get why Apple's doing it," said Laura DiDio, principal analyst at ITIC.

The company "wants to be politically correct," she told TechNewsWorld.

However, the change "just calls more attention to the issue," DiDio added.

"It is kind of hard to make a case that a gun depicts an emotion," remarked Michael Jude, a program manager at Stratecast/Frost & Sullivan.

Apple "is very definitely anti-gun and has funded many initiatives to limit people's access to firearms."

The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution protects that right, while the first amendment "makes it possible to talk about that right," he told TechNewsWorld.

However, "turning a pistol into a water pistol changes something that may have serious intent into something that's less serious," he said.

All About Intent

"It's not surprising in this hypersensitive culture that we seem to have, that something like an emoji would cause such concerns," Jude said. "It's hard to say if it's worth discussing."

If a child uses a water pistol in play, it's not a threat, whereas if an adult uses a realistic-looking water pistol to commit a crime such as robbing a bank, the pistol would be a threat, he contended. "The difference is intent, and it bears noting that a water pistol loaded with battery acid is, in fact, a weapon."

As for the contention that the change would alter the perception of historical messages, "I suspect the impact will be slight," Jude said. "I don't think anyone will be confused, but I do think there will be upset people who view this as yet another attempt by the technological thought police to impose a point of view on them."

"The whole topic is just silly," DiDio declared. "Why are we even talking about this?" Changing the emoji "doesn't make one whit of difference. I think a lot of people have too much time on their hands."


Richard Adhikari has written about high-tech for leading industry publications since the 1990s and wonders where it's all leading to. Will implanted RFID chips in humans be the Mark of the Beast? Will nanotech solve our coming food crisis? Does Sturgeon's Law still hold true? You can connect with Richard on Google+.


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How do you feel about flying on a pilotless plane?
No way -- if there's a screw-up, you can't just jump out.
I'd do it -- flights are pretty much entirely automated anyway.
I'm skeptical but open minded, especially if fares would be much less.
I would try it if there were *someone* on board to take over in a pinch.
It's the wave of the future -- I'm resigned to it.