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Home / Tips and Tricks / How to Unlock the Secret Emoticon Keyboard on Your iPhone «iOS & iPhone :: Gadget Hacks

How to Unlock the Secret Emoticon Keyboard on Your iPhone «iOS & iPhone :: Gadget Hacks



Emoji has taken the world by storm, so chances are you regularly use (or overuse) emoji on your iPhone’s keyboard, just like everyone else. But before emoji was popular, there were smileys, AKA emoticons, and iOS has a secret emoticon keyboard waiting for you to unlock.

Emoticons may not be the bright, colorful icons we’ve grown to love on smartphones, but they are equally adorable expressions with lots of features and looks that emoji just haven’t come up with yet. “Shrug” (¯ _ (?) _ / ¯) was possibly the most used typographic symbol in the past until Apple added the shrug emoji.

Normally, you type out emoticon expressions manually, but your current typing keyboard may not even have all of the Unicode characters to complete every emote out there. Copying / pasting from the internet was also a good option, but just too much work to do over and over again. Another way to make emoticons easier to type was to assign them to keyboard shortcuts.

If you̵

7;re planning to dive into emoticons to complement your emoji skills, nothing beats the convenience of a built-in emoticon keyboard. And if you’re wondering why you’ve never seen or heard of this iPhone keyboard, it’s probably because you don’t speak Japanese.

Step 1: Add the Kana or Romaji keyboard

Open the Settings app and go to General -> Keyboard -> Keyboards -> Add New Keyboard. Scroll through the list of keyboards and select ‘Japanese’. You will see two options – “Kana” and “Ramaji” – and both will work. Both translate Japanese characters into romanized characters that English speakers would recognize, and it may be smart to install both as some emoticons are not on both. Once selected, tap “Done” to go back to it Keyboards page.

If you want to change the order of your keyboards, which will change throughout iOS, tap “Edit”, tap and hold the three lines on the keyboard you want to move, and drag it to the desired place. Tap “Done” to save the changes.

Step 2: Go to the Emoticon section

Now that you have set up the keyboard, you are ready to select and send emoticons to anyone you want. Open an app that you can type in, such as Messages, then tap as needed to bring up the keyboard. If you set the Kana or Romaji language as your default keyboard, it should appear immediately.

If it doesn’t open immediately, long press the globe icon at the bottom left, slide up and select the Japanese keyboard. You can also tap the globe until you reach the correct keyboard.

Option 1: Kana keyboard

For Kana, tap the “^ _ ^” key to access the emoticons secret keyboard, then press the drop-down button (down arrow) at the top to expand the full emoticons list.

Option 2: Romaji keyboard

For Romaji, tap “123” followed by the “^ _ ^” key, then press the drop-down (down arrow) button at the top to expand the full list of emoticons.

Step 3: Add emoticons like never before

If you don’t expand the full list of emoticons, you can swipe left on the row to see more. However, there are too many emoticons, so it’s easier to tap the down arrow (?) To expand the list and scroll vertically.

When you find an emoticon you like, tap it. The emoticon keyboard disappears and the emoticon itself loads where you type. You can delete any part of the emoticon as it consists only of individual Unicode characters.

These keyboards do not list all emoticons, just a decent selection of oriental style emoticons called “kaomoji”, western emoticons and some anime style emoticons. Characters in each emoticon, some of which are syllabograms and glyphs, come from many different character sets, such as hiragana, katakana, kanji, and Greek and Cyrillic alphabets, along with other types of symbols.

The Kana and Romaji keyboards may have some of the same static emoticons, but there are also several, so it might be a good idea to have both if you want more variety.

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Cover image, screenshots and GIFs by Jake Peterson / Gadget Hacks

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