Before there was Animoji, Justmoji, or Kimoji, there was another member of the emoji spinoff family: Bitmoji. The personalisable avatars, created in 2014 by the Toronto-based company behind comic creation site Bitstrips, have become even more visible in recent years thanks to its integration in Snapchat (Snap acquired the company in 2014). Now, they're getting their first major upgrade in years with an entirely new style, the much hyped, Bitmoji Deluxe.
In some ways, Deluxe isn't groundbreaking. When I first saw the process, which starts with the option to take a selfie, I assumed the app would use that selfie to suggest best-match features. Instead, it turns out, that selfie is just there as a point of reference in case you don't have a mirror nearby (or have forgotten what you look like). The rest of the process, which asks you to choose a skin tone, hair colour, eye colour, and other personal traits, is similar to what it was previously.
However, though there may not be any exciting AI component, Deluxe finally does what Unicode, the governing body behind emoji, has not yet succeeded in doing: Offering a far more expansive catalogue of skin tone, hair colour, and hairstyle options that are representative of the population.
Deluxe offers 40 skin tone options and over 50 hair colours compared to the previously available 25 in each category. There are also more facial features, and new hair treatment options such as pink tips and ombré effects. While curly hair — and red hair — may be coming to emoji later this year, Unicode has lagged behind Bitmoji in its offerings in this respect.
Creating someone who looks like you, or choosing an emoji that represents you, does matter. According to Snapchat, 63% of Bitmoji will update their Bitmoji to reflect changes in appearance or style. That's because, as many authors have noted in articles discussing the larger cultural impact of emoji, our connections with our personal avatars are surprisingly intimate. These are the visual icons we use to reflect our online personas, ones we're using to communicate with family and friends when we're not together IRL. That's why the "you" online should be closest representation of who you are offline, and not merely an approximation. We want them to look closely like us, whether that's with a celebratory Bitmoji jumping out of a cake, or your Bitmoji face inside an avocado.
The updates to Bitmoji will begin rolling out today. To change your styling, open the Bitmoji app and go to settings and "change avatar style."