How to Enable a Hidden Emoticon Keyboard on iPhone

Jun 1, 2016 - 11 Comments

How to Enable the Emoticon keyboard on iPhone and iPad

iPhone users regularly enjoy the Emoji keyboard with all the fun icons, faces, and little pictures, but before Emoji came around there were Emoticons, which are basically little text drawings of faces and actions using regular characters on a keyboard. Emoticons are a little bit more complex to type out than hitting a simple Emoji key, but if you want to use Emoticons there’s a great hidden Emoticon keyboard on the iPhone and iPad waiting to be enabled, with a huge array of complete emoticon faces and strings waiting for use.

To be perfectly clear, the Emoticon keyboard on iOS is completely different from the regular Emoji icon keyboard on iOS, despite having similar names. You can enable both if you want to, but we’ll cover the Emoticon keyboard on this tutorial.

How to Enable the Emoticon Keyboard in iOS

This enables a special little-known keyboard exclusively of emoticons on any iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch:

  1. Open the Settings app and go to “General” then to “Keyboard”
  2. Select “Add New Keyboard” and find “Japanese”
  3. Add new keyboard iOS

  4. Select “Romaji” from the Japanese keyboard list (by the way if you haven’t done so yet, you should enable the Emoji keyboard while you’re in the iOS Keyboard settings)
  5. Select Romaji for the emoticon keyboard in iOS

  6. Now go to an app like Notes and tap on the little Globe icon to access the optional keyboards menu
  7. Access emoticon keyboard in iOS

  8. Select the Japanese character text, this switches to the Emoticon keyboard that is called Romaji
  9. Select Romaji in Japanese to access Emoticon keyboard

  10. Tap on an Emoticon to type it out from the predictive menu, or tap on the Arrow icon to access the huge Emoticon array of completed Emoticon character strings
  11. Typing Emoticons in iOS

Here is the full Emoticon keyboard as seen in iOS on iPhone:

Emoticon keyboard on iPhone

Some of the Emoticons are fairly obvious, with many goofy faces of various characters and an obvious idea of what they are to represent, while others are a bit of a mystery. Trying to define them like you can with Emoji doesn’t quite work, so you’ll have to just explore and guess, or enjoy the mystery a bit.

That’s all there is to it. Remember to hit the Globe icon again and switch back to English or whatever your default keyboard is, otherwise you’ll have the Emoticon keyboard as your new default, similar to if you just used the Emoji keyboard it stays the default until switched again. You can switch this or any other keyboard anytime by hitting the Globe icon again and selecting the keyboard set you prefer.

Longtime iOS users may recall that on much earlier versions of iOS, you had to access the Emoji keyboard through the Japanese keyboard options as well, so perhaps future releases of iOS will add the Emoticon keyboard as a broad keyboard similar to the Emoji keys are a simple to access optional set as well.

Thanks to Cult of Mac for finding this fun little optional keyboard in iOS!


Related articles:

Posted by: Paul Horowitz in iPad, iPhone, Tips & Tricks


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  1. Aldebaran says:

    These particular emoticons have been curated from locally sourced keyboard strokes by bearded hipsters in skinny jeans.

  2. RM says:

    We need one of those funny timeline things for this post, because these emojis are so out dated – by perhaps 10 or more years depending on your country. But heh, everything old becomes new again. ;)

  3. John R says:

    I still use my iPhone4 w iOS7.1.2.

    I can get the Japanese Keyboard to load, I have not figured out how to display the full collection to choose from. There is no far right down arrow to show the complete collection.

    Anyone know another way to display the collection?

    • yyz guy says:

      Original iphone came out 10 years ago….yours came out 5 years ago…Just saying…

      • John R says:

        Dang, thank you Mr. Know-it-All. Gee whilkers, you’re so knowledgable.

        • Yyzguy says:

          Why would you post a question if you knew the obvious answer? Or maybe it’s not clear to you. Did you try it? If it didn’t work….well gee Wilickers maybe it doesn’t have this ability. Were you expecting a throng of answers from the dozen people using 5 year old phones?


    • Me too…seems need later than ios 7 to operate this…

    • DB says:

      There is a step missing. You need to tap the 123 button, and then the emoticon icon appears next to the ! button.

  4. Steven Peters says:

    If I never see another graphic format emoji, it will be too soon. Using keyboard characters to create emoticons was sort of clever; choosing from a menu of preformed images requires no creativity and betrays a lack of imagination.

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