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Emoji, emoji everywhere, and not a way to search them

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As an "old," there are many millennial and #teen trends that go impossibly far above my head. One that I do get, though, is the swift integration of emoji into our collective rapport. I completely understand them, why we use them, and why they're valuable. They can even enable communication between individuals who don't speak the same language. I don't need to tell you I'm sick; I can just text you a round, bright yellow face wearing a mask. I celebrate the downfall of English, and basically any other written language that doesn't rely entirely on twee glyphs. (Brands feel the same way.)

But as we expand our emoji vocabulary — which Apple just did with iOS 9.1 this week, introducing many dozens of new symbols — we're running into a problem: how the hell are you supposed to find anything anymore? It doesn't help that Apple has reorganized its emoji keyboard twice in the span of just a few months. In iOS 9.1, categories have been changed and reorganized, and we're now up to eight categories in all: Smileys & People, Animals & Nature, Food & Drink, Activity, Travel & Places, Objects, Symbols, and Flags. And the problem obviously isn't limited to Apple: they're just following updated Unicode guidelines, as Android and Windows do.

If I tested you right now, could you find the money bag in under five seconds? What about the Statue of Liberty, or the levitating dude in a suit? What about the balloon? The padlock? The 100?

Okay, fine, maybe you could. But with the next version of iOS will undoubtedly come another batch of emoji, then another batch after that. At some point, Apple will rearrange the categories again and you're going to completely lose your way. There are simply too many emoji to be inputting them in this primitive, basic way. We need something better.

Some keyboards, like SwiftKey, offer predictive emoji based on what you're typing. Slack, the group communication tool, can call up emoji by textual shortcuts enclosed in colons (:pray-skin-tone-4:, for example). But I think we need something more. Emoji needs its QWERTY — a standard, intuitive layout that you can learn just once and have those skills transfer from device to device. And maybe we need a disruptive way to input them, too, considering that there are hundreds upon hundreds of emoji available, and I want to use each and every one.

I don't know what the answer is, but I do know that I don't want to swipe a dozen times on my phone, squinting, while I desperately search for the shrimp, the pill or the rooster. Maybe voice input will get good enough and socially acceptable enough by the time this becomes a desperate problem. Then again, mobile keyboards like Japanese have smartly figured out how to dispense thousands of characters through a combination of thumb movements and autocorrect. And rest assured, we'll get to thousands of emoji over time — just think of how many symbols you'd like to have that are still missing, even in the latest phones.

You know what? Maybe English is alright after all.

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