Apple updates face mask emoji for pandemic times — with smiling eyes

Apple users will soon be able to express themselves with a new emoji that seems to be in good spirits, wearing a mask to help slow the spread of COVID-19.
The most noticeable difference in the newly-designed emoji is the eyes.
The most noticeable difference in the newly-designed emoji is the eyes.TODAY Illustration / Apple
/ Source: TODAY

In a time where people are largely dressed down and masked up due to the coronavirus pandemic, Apple has responded by creating a new face mask emoji character with a more positive outlook.

The most noticeable difference in the newly-designed emoji is the eyes.

The original face mask emoji had a somber expression with downturned eyes and a surgical mask. People often texted it when they had the flu or a cold. The new emoji appears happy and well. Its eyes are now squinted, “smiling eyes,” according to Emojipedia, and its eyebrows are raised.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been calling on Americans, whether they're sick or not, to wear face masks that cover the mouth and nose when in public or around other people to help curb the spread of COVID-19.

Janine Driver, a body language expert and the founder and president of the Body Language Institute in Washington D.C., told TODAY in June that even with a face mask, people can discern when someone is in fact smiling.

“With true happiness, we see it with the wrinkles on the side of our eyes,” she said.

Apple had no comment on the updated design of its face mask emoji, but this new smiling version is not the first of its kind. Certain competitors already offer smiley face mask emojis to their users.

Back in July, an article in The Washingtonian told the story of one man’s petition for Apple to create a smiley face emoji with a mask. Shohsei Oda, a 29-year-old Washington D.C. resident, noted in his petition on Change.org that Samsung updated its sickly face mask emoji, so why couldn’t Apple?

Throughout the petition, Oda acknowledged that the only way of communicating a smile behind a mask during COVID-19 is if individuals smile with their eyes. To date, 200 people signed the petition.

“If you’re a Google or Samsung mobile user, this point is moot — your medical mask emoji already seems sufficiently smiley (lucky you),” Oda wrote. “If you’re like me and use an iPhone, our masked-emoji appears a little less spirited. Considering ALL OF THE SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE underlining the benefits of wearing a mask, I figured it was time to expand on the expressiveness of the Apple iOS masked-emoji.”

To that end, Oda even created a mock-up draft of what the emoji would look like. Although images of the new emoji have surfaced, there is no release date from Apple for the update. It remains unclear if his petition had any influence on Apple’s decision to adopt a new face mask emoji.

One of Oda's other motivating factors in creating the petition was the hope that such an emoji would "normalize mask-wearing" and reduce the politicization of the protective equipment.

"In other countries where there aren't necessarily mask mandates, but where mask-wearing was more normalized culturally, there was a correlation with lower rates and transmission of coronavirus," Oda told TODAY in a phone interview.

And while Oda recognized that there are more pressing matters in the world than petitioning Apple for an emoji, doing so "put a smile on (his) own face,” he said in his petition.

“I also believe that deep down we share a desire to rise above the challenges we face and to find the joy in our lives. I hope to see your smiling — sans masks — on the other side of this pandemic,” Oda wrote, concluding his petition.