Latest mobile tech hints at the power of GIFs and emojis

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Emoji apps are making huge money in the App Store

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If recent mobile technology releases are any indication, pictures are still worth a thousand words – and millions of dollars. Emojis and short animations have become mobile communication essentials. Here's a look at the ways that these modern pictographs are taking over the world, and how tech companies are looking to cash in.

Emojis: little faces, big bucks

Whether you're the type to adhere to strict grammar rules when composing texts, or you're like me and consider the poop emoji an elegant one-word poem, you've encountered emojis. They do real work, helping to imply tone and intention in otherwise rushed, non-inflective messages. Sometimes an on-screen smiley face is a necessary stand-in for the real thing.

While techies are more likely to evaluate a device based on hardware specs and software performance, the average user hits up their emoji keyboard more than the settings panel. Software developers and celebrities have gleaned the most remarkable profits off the craze so far: Kim Kardashian's "Kimoji" collection grossed an estimated $1 million per minute through Apple's App Store right after it was released in December 2015. Last June, NBA MVP Steph Curry's "Stephmoji" app, at US $1.99 a pop, became an App Store's top seller in less than 24 hours.

Operating systems have caught on and are taking emojis increasingly seriously. Both Apple and Google make emoji updates with major releases to no small fanfare. This year's Nougat is the first instance where Android supports more emojis than iOS, which suggests an arms race of sorts. And Apple's recently announced decision to change the revolver emoji into a water pistol has sparked controversy that speaks not only to the legitimacy of emojis as a language, but to Apple's belief in the power of digital expressions.

GIFs and other evocative animations

Similarly, animated GIFs are catching on as a digital language of their own. By taking the most emotionally relevant part of a video and playing it over and over ad infinitum, these strange artifacts from Web 1.0 have significant evocative power.

Prompted by the viral nature of short video, smartphone manufacturers are incorporating quick and easy ways to create and share GIFs and similar animations. For example, Samsung just notably incorporated GIF-making shortcuts into the photo galleries on high-end flagships like the Galaxy S7 and the Galaxy Note 7. The brand new Note 7 also has a GIF shortcut coded into its S pen stylus.

Interestingly, manufacturers seem to be bent on generating proprietary versions of GIFs. Cases in point: Lumia's Living Images, iPhone's Live Photo and Samsung's Motion Photo are all camera settings that create brief animations. Maybe manufacturers want to capitalize on the appeal of GIF-like animation without spoiling their sleek flagships with the campy, low-resolution look of 1985 technology.

Either way, these methods don't produce videos that are as easily exportable and sharable as GIFs. It's interesting that these photography options are so widespread, yet they are largely only usable within their own ecosystems. This seems like a strange in-between stage in the proliferation of animated messages, so we will have to wait and see where it leads.

Attitudes toward emoji and GIFs run the gamut, even amongst New Atlas writers. Regardless of your stance on emojis and their animated counterparts, there's no denying that it's time to take them seriously, if for nothing else than as enormous revenue generators. Do they sell apps? Definitely. Do they sell phones? Maybe. Judging from recent mobile developments, manufacturers seem to think they have something to do with it.

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