Do you see this crab, running back and forth, clacking his claws in eager anticipation? Can you make this crab on your iPhone? No. But you can make it in Gmail.
Really, no more argument than that is needed. The iPhone's emoji have been co-opted by pop stars, made the subject of art exhibitions, and sent to you by your mom. Gmail's emoji look like shit and no one can remember to use them.
But Gmail has the crab.
Yesterday, the online magazine Matter delivered an "18-minute read" on the subject of emoji that concerned itself almost entirely with the iPhone emoji library. Why have Gmail's emoji been overlooked for so long? Both Gmail and iPhone emoji have plenty of faces and objects that serve your everyday needs: smiling, crying, growling, shitting, etc.; both have esoteric emoji that are perhaps less useful but nonetheless essential to the emoji experience—your pig, your dude swimming laps, your 100. Everything you love about a phone's emoji you can get out of Gmail's emoji, and vice versa. Yet iPhone emoji get praise, fashion tie-ins, and music videos.
Yes, Gmail's emoji are much cruder than the iPhone's, which have clearly defined lines, appealing colors and a sort of gleaming sheen. Gmail's emoji, charming though they might be, look like hand-drawn sketches shaded with colored pencils.
In fact, a lot of them are actively ugly. Who thought these looked good?
The truth is, there's something charming and about the crude, pixelated family that occupies Gmail's emoji menu. Apple's emoji look smart, sharp, and professional, but Gmail's emoji are approachable and familiar. They look like they came from a MySpace customization package you downloaded in 2002. One reason we like emoji is because they're weird and a little broken. The the choice of symbols and icons represented is bizarre; their meanings are unclear and up for debate. So why would we want that eccentricity communicated in smooth lines and perfectly rendered gradients?
But even if they weren't charmingly stunted, Gmail emoji have something on their side: Movement. That alone makes up for a lot of the artistic deficiencies. I love typing ":-o" into a Gchat window and watching it turn into a green face whose eyes pop out in shock as its jaw drops. Or, take this guy, clearly one of the greatest emoji ever.
Our dancing friend brings us to the real strength of Gmail emoji: Unique icons. For as many emoji as Gmail shares with its phone counterparts, it has a number of crucial emoji that, to me, really make it stand out.
Here are some of my favorites, and best practices for use.
Green face with the glasses and freckles/pimples
Used for: Perfect for self-consciously acknowledging a weirdly academic email.
The Chewing Guy
The dude with the yellow face whose mouth in a constant state of chewing something,
Used for: My best friend and I use to connote our anticipation of some impending event (usually some obvious sports calamity, such as the Indiana Pacers' marvelous fall from grace in the NBA playoffs).
The Guy Pulling His Whisker
The guy with the yellow face who reaches out and yanks the whisker on his face.
Used for: It is perfect for using after a particularly good zing.
The skittering crab who moves across the screen pinching his claws,
Used for: I don't use it for anything in particular but it's really nice to see him pop up in an email. Hey, man.
The Upside Down Face
The yellow face guy who is smiling while standing on his head,
Used for: When something makes you so happy that you're actually delirious.
Use those excellent unique emoji wisely, because they probably won't last much longer. Gmail emoji are, sadly, probably doomed. The new Gchat—"Google Hangouts"—features a new, smoother, more professional library of emoji (one that notably lacks a crab); it's likely that sometime soon Google will introduce it systemwide, and we'll lose the the nerd, the guy pulling his whiskers, the crab and other unique members of the family of Gmail emoji. Until then, we have only one recourse: we must send the crab in every single email.