Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Typing emoji is weird

I was thrilled to read in a recent article on Fedora Magazine that Fedora 25 now includes a feature to type emoji. While I don't often use emoji, I do rely on them in certain situations, usually when texting with friends. It would be nice to use emoji in some of my desktop communications, but I was disappointed after reading the description of how to do it. A summary of the process, from the article:
Fedora 25 Workstation ships with a new feature that, when enabled, allows you to quickly search, select and input emoji using your keyboard.

The new emoji input method ships by default in Fedora 25 Workstation, but to use it you will need to enable it using the Region and Language settings dialog.

Next, enable an advanced input method (which is powered behind the scenes by iBus). The advanced input methods are identifiable in the list by the cogs icon on the right of the list. In this example below, we have added English—US (Typing Booster)

Now the Emoji input method is enabled, search for emoji by pressing the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+Shift+e presenting an @ symbol in the currently focused text input. Begin typing for the emoji you want to use, and pop-over will appear allowing you to browse the matches. Finally, use the keyboard to mouse to make your selection, and the glyph will be placed as input.
If you didn't follow that, here's a recap: add a plug-in to activate emoji, then do this whenever you want to type an emoji:

  1. hit a control-key sequence
  2. look for the @ character to appear
  3. type some text that describes the emoji
  4. if the emoji you want pops up, click on it

Maybe that seems straightforward to you. To me, that seems like a very opaque way to insert an emoji. What emoji can I type? This method is probably okay if I know what emoji are there, such as "heart" or "tree," like in the example. This doesn't appear to be good usability. But if you don't know the available emoji, you may have a hard time. Emojipedia says there are as many as of 1,851 emoji characters supported on current platforms, up to and including Unicode 9.0. Good luck in finding the one you want through the @ method.

I don't know the technical details of what's happening behind the scenes, but I wonder why we couldn't provide a feature to add emoji that's easier to use? Here's one example:

  1. right-click wherever you are typing text
  2. select "Insert emoji" from the pop-up menu
  3. get a dialog box with different emoji on it
  4. click on the emoji you want

I would organize the emoji pop-up menu by type. On my Android phone, I get something similar: all the "face" emoji on one page, all the "nature" emoji on another, etc.

Basically, I think it would be easier to add an item in a right-click menu to insert an emoji. I'm sure there are many challenges here, like maybe not all applications that let you type text support a right-click menu. More likely, it may be difficult or impossible to insert a new item in a program's right-click menu.

But my view is there should be an easier way to insert an emoji.
image: Fedora Magazine, used for illustration


  1. In the Mac world, this is handled with an item added to the bottom of the universal Edit menu. That works because there *is* a universal edit menu in every program, even if programs get to choose things to add to it. GNOME in particular is trying to get rid of menus, so it would have to be in some other universally-available location. The Application menu?

  2. I've added a custom keyboard shortcut to launch gnome-characters. It has search, and it has some browsing. Unfortunately it doesn't have a section for emoji; just one for smileys, which are just a small subset.

    I also miss colourful emoji fonts on Linux :(

  3. Another method which you may not be aware of is to install GNOME Characters, enable its search provider in the Search panel of Settings, start typing (e.g. "thumbs" for thumbs up) in the Shell overview and select the result that matches your need by pressing enter: the character has been copied to clipboard, you can now paste it anywhere.

    The feature is currently broken with Wayland, but it's been available for about two or three releases.

  4. I also get an extra input method in the keyboard switcher. So I have an extra keyboard layout I can switch to with super+space, but I never want to. And I switch keyboard layouts all the time. I'm quite disappointed with the feature, yep.

  5. Well, it should have search too. The latest Google Keyboard app for iOS (and rolling out soon for Android) has been renamed GBoard and includes search in addition to the categories. There are simply too many emojis to quickly find a specific one via browsing the categories.

  6. Yes, I'm not opposed to search as another way to find the emoji you want. With over 1,850 emoji, search will make things easier, especially if you know the emoji you are looking for can be described as "heart" or "eggplant." I just think searching as the only way to find emoji is not great; a pop-up menu or similar visual interface is necessary.

  7. I think the idea to have support for this somehow in GTK+ (such as in the text view). There's some mockups if I recall correctly…