Apple is releasing a host of new, revamped emojis for iPhone and iPad users with the launch of its iOS 10 software this fall, including new diverse icons that depict female athletes and professionals, single-parent families and a rainbow flag, the company has announced. In addition to the more than 100 new emoji characters, the company is swapping its black and silver handgun emoji with a friendlier, bright green water pistol.
The change follows several devastating incidents of gun violence in the US and across the globe. Apple, however, did not specify a reason for the replacement.
"Apple is working closely with the Unicode Consortium to ensure that popular emoji characters reflect the diversity of people everywhere," the Cupertino company said in a press release.
Earlier this year, Unicode Consortium — the organisation that handles and approves new emojis before they are introduced to phones — decided to remove a rifle from its latest list of potential new additions to the emoji library.
BuzzFeed reports that Apple, one of Unicode's largest member companies, actually began discussions to remove the rifle emoji that was part of a set of new Olympic-themed emojis to commemorate the upcoming Rio Olympics 2016.
"I heard Apple speak up about it and also Microsoft," a member present at Unicode's quarterly meeting last May told BuzzFeed News.
Many gun-control groups have praised Apple's move to replace the pistol emoji, including a group called New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, who launched a campaign in 2015 urging Apple to replace its pistol emoji "as a symbolic gesture to limit gun accessibility".
"Apple has stood up to the bullying tactics of the NRA and gun industry by showing that there are many more life-affirming ways to express oneself than with a gun," NYAGV's Executive Director Leah Barrett told CNN.
However, not all users are convinced about the pistol swap, questioning how much difference the gesture could actually make to the gun crime epidemic.
Some of the other new emojis to be released in September include more gender options for existing character icons such as female versions of professions like private investigators, body builders, basketball players and athletes.
In June, Facebook introduced more than 1,500 new emoji for its Messenger service that included more diverse options including skin tone variants and better gender representation.