Animated emojis on the Apple Watch are creepy.

This Apple Watch Feature Is Supposed to Be Fun but Just Turned Out Creepy

This Apple Watch Feature Is Supposed to Be Fun but Just Turned Out Creepy

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
April 8 2015 1:21 PM

This Apple Watch Feature Is Supposed to Be Fun but Just Turned Out Creepy

animated
Coming to a wrist near you.

Images from Apple

Apple Watch reviews poured out on Wednesday ahead of the product’s launch on April 24, and as every feature and option is scrutinized, prevailing interpretations are starting to form. Many reviewers say that the Apple Watch is overall the best smartwatch out there right now but caution that it is still firmly in the early adoption phase. Third-party apps run slowly, functionality is inherently limited, and learning to use the product takes a while. But there’s something else, something “creepy,” going on. And for once, it’s not a privacy problem!

Interactive emojis are part of a group of features that are supposed to offer novel communication methods. Using the watch’s hardware—like the “Taptic Engine,” which gives wearers a small tap to let them know something is going on, and the heart rate sensor—you can send other Apple Watch wearers a “tap” or even share your heart rate with them. But it’s good ol’ emojis, not those physical/digital integrations, that reviewers are calling “a decidedly mixed affair.”

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In addition to normal (static) emojis, the Apple Watch’s animated emojis come in three flavors. Users have some ability to customize how much tongue the smiley face shows, the extent to which the heart explodes, and the motions of the mime hand.

“Not everyone ... finds animated emojis thrilling,” Lauren Goode writes in her Apple Watch review on Re/code. “[They] range from an M&M-like smiley face to a sparkling heart to a ghostly white glove giving the thumbs-up. Some people really liked these when I sent them. Re/code co-executive editor Kara Swisher pronounced them ‘creepy.’ ”

People predicted the controversial nature of interactive emojis long before Apple Watches were in the hands of reviewers. After Apple first announced its smartwatch in September, Gizmodo immediately called the cartoonish emojis creepy and described them as “twerking on your wrist.”

On Wednesday, Nilay Patel, the editor-in-chief of the Verge, who wrote the site’s review, felt so strongly that he even included the phrase  “Animated emojis are nightmare fuel” in the highly condensed overall pro-con list at the end of his Apple Watch evaluation.

On Bloomberg, Joshua Topolsky points out that emojis, both standard and specially designed, are available on most popular communication software these days. Apple’s animated emojis are far from radical. He writes:

What really struck me here was deep deja vu over an earlier Apple attempt to change the way we communicate with people: Ping. Ping was a “social network for music” that the company imagined would be the way that people wanted to share what they were listening to. In fact, people wanted to use other services, in thousands of different ways, to do that—ways that were much more natural and personal than the sterile option Apple provided. That’s how I feel about these animated icons you can send.

So will the Apple Watch’s success live and die on animated emojis? Probably not. But they're certainly bizarre. Patel writes, “I keep sending people a crying smiley face with its tongue hanging out just to see who my real friends are and who will call the police.” Probably not exactly what Apple was going for.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.