One of the things I like about the iPhone 3G I use in Japan is now it updates itself with new software that usually adds new features for free, something my old cell phone certainly didn't do. Version 2.2 of the iPhone software was recently released, and one Japan-centric feature it offers is emoji, or "picture-characters," apparently so important to Japanese consumers that Softbank had Apple add the feature specially for them. With the update, Softbank users can call up an optional keyboard that features several dozen cute pictures which can be inserted into emails, with everything from an ikari mark (the mark anime characters get on their heads when they're mad) to images of food, buildings and apologetic boyfriends. Some of the symbols are downright puzzling (an eggplant? a rocket? smiling poop?), but I guess the idea is to give enough choice so that users can be as whimsical as they like in their emails. It's certainly a lot more expressive than using boring old ASCII to express one's self, like the word Orz which looks like a man on his hands and knees apologizine. I wonder if the new emoji feature will bring in a lot of new users in Japan.
Oh, and unfortunately this is only for users in Japan, and only when they send mail using their Softbank account, which no one uses. Happily there is a hack out there for Jailbroken phones.