To cut right to the chase: emoji were a bad idea, and the sooner they go away, the better.
I can totally see the appeal of emoji. There’s only so much that plain prose — especially plain prose typed on a tiny cell phone screen — can convey, and it’s nice to be able to easily send a picture now and then. But why not do just that? Is an emoji heart really that different from a stock image meant for a Valentine’s Day card?
And while it’s true that whole pictures take up more space than four-byte Unicode characters, it’s not like we don’t have ways around that. Simple images can be compressed significantly, especially if they were designed with instant messaging in mind — and people already send plenty of images as it is, so a few more bytes here and there likely wouldn’t break anyone’s bank.
All of this, though, pales in comparison to the one huge disadvantage that emoji have: every darn platform implements them differently. What shows up as a gun on one device is a water pistol on another (yes, that’s a real example), or a face with one expression may have a slightly different one elsewhere, etc. And that’s not even getting into the huge issues raised by having a single, global standard for what “qualifies” for emoji status, leading to situations where, say, people end up using images of vegetables to communicate about traditionally sexualized body parts.
At this point, unfortunately, emoji are here to stay, and there’s probably very little we can do about them in the immediate future. But in the long term, I’d recommend that the creators of new communication platforms think long and hard about whether they want to make it easy to send emoji, or whether it might be a better idea to just give users a library of simple stock images to send for the same purposes.