The only characters that are easier to type in iOS than on the Mac are emoji, those cartoon-like pictures that were created in Japan just before the turn of the century as a way of sharing pictures on mobile devices. They caught on in the United States in 2011 after Apple built an emoji keyboard into the iPhone with iOS 5 and added them to OS X 10.7 Lion. They’re most often used to pretty up chat messages, but since they’re actually font characters, you can also increase their size and use them like clip art in any Mac app.
Even though emoji have been readily accessible since 2011, many Mac users have never figured out how to enter them, since you can’t just type them on a keyboard. So, if you want to insert a ? in a post in Messages or a note in Mail, you need to use the Characters viewer. To bring it up in most Mac apps, choose Edit > Emoji & Symbols or use its keyboard shortcut: Command-Control-Space.
When the Characters viewer first appears, it may be compressed (above left); click the square expansion icon to expand it to its full glory (above right). The compressed view is fine, but the expanded view makes it easier to browse through the full set of emoji and search for particular emoji—you can also make the expanded version larger and see more emoji at once by dragging a corner. With Emoji chosen in the first column of the enlarged view, the second column lists emoji categories, such as Smileys & People, Animals & Nature, Food & Drink, and so on. In the compressed view, you can see the same categories by clicking the icons at the bottom. If you want a particular emoji, search for it by typing in the Search field—try “fruit” or “apple.”
You can insert an emoji from the Characters viewer in three main ways—if one method doesn’t work in a particular app, try another:
- While the cursor is active in a text area, double-click a character in the viewer.
- Drag a character out of the viewer and into a text area.
- Drag a character out of the viewer to the Desktop to create a text clipping with it. Then drag that text clipping anywhere you can type.
Once you insert a character, it appears in the Frequently Used category; in the expanded version of the Characters viewer, you can also click the Add to Favorites button to add the current emoji to the Favorites category.
With many of the emoji of people, the first time you click the emoji, you’ll see a popover that lets you choose a skin tone other than the default, and macOS remembers your selection. If you wish to change an emoji’s skin tone later, click and hold until its popover appears (or use Force Touch, if you’re working with an appropriate trackpad).
One warning: If you send emoji from an Apple device to someone using a non-Apple device or operating system, they may see slightly different emoji than what you sent. The most notable example of this is Apple’s “pistol” emoji, which now looks like a green squirt gun ?, whereas that emoji on other platforms generally looks like a more realistic handgun. The Unicode Consortium publishes a full list of what each emoji looks like on different platforms.
It’s easy to assume that emoji are a fad, or are used only by the young, but in reality, they’re having a profound effect on written communication. While an octogenarian may not understand that a line of dancers ????? is meant to convey enthusiasm, a teen from China who speaks no English might get it. New York Magazine has covered the topic in depth, so give that article a read if you’re curious.