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The reason for the question is that I have a friend with an iPhone who sends emoticons, and I receive them as a single rectangular box. I wonder if it's an encoding problem.

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up vote 6 down vote accepted

iPhone emoticons are not character combinations like :-) but they are single UTF-16 character of emoticons called Emoji which are not by default supported in Android.

By using some third party sms apps such as GO SMS PRO and installing its Emoji Plugin you would be able to send and receive such iPhone emoticons to/from your friend.

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SMS, generally, uses the 7-bit GSM encoding standard, however a quick cursory glance with google-fu yielded this answer posted on StackOverflow which seems to say that Apple uses UTF-16 (Unicode encoding).

This would explain why you got a rectangular box as the handset is not able to decipher the encoding.

You can find out more here as per the standards document

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