What Is The "Eye In Speech Bubble" Emoji?

Earlier this week, people with access to the preview of iOS 9.1 discovered something mysterious hiding out within it: A new emoji that looks like an eye sitting in the middle of a speech bubble. Curious, is it not? I mean, what is the Eye in Speech Bubble emoji, precisely, and why would we possibly need it? Well, I have good news and bad news: The good news is that I've assembled everything we know about the Eye in Speech Bubble emoji right now in one place. The bad news, though, is that we don't really know much.

Here's the story so far: According to Emojipedia founder Jeremy Burge, the iOS 9.1 developer preview features a wacky little ellipsis on the emoji keyboard. Tapping and holding it brings up a little bubble showing two separate emoji — the Eye and the Left Speech Bubble — and selecting it shows us something that looks like one of the emoji ate the other (that is, the Eye suddenly appears in the center of the Left Speech Bubble).

To say that the odd little symbol has the Internet stumped is pretty much the understatement of the year. What is the Eye in Speech Bubble emoji? What does it mean? Why does it exist? What is it for?

Here's my attempt to answer those questions, although fair warning — the results aren't terribly satisfying.

What Exactly Is It?

As I mentioned previously, the Eye in Speech Bubble appears to be an amalgamation of two existing emoji: The Eye, and the Left Speech Bubble. Both were approved in Unicode 7, but the Left Speech Bubble apparently isn't a standard addition (that is, it's not really recommended for display). So how do you make two emoji one? Easy: Use a Zero Width Joiner. The ZWJ isn't strictly an emoji — it doesn't have an appearance of its own, and it will show up as invisible when it's all on its lonesome — but it is a Unicode character. It's responsible for assembling emoji like the Family ones: It allows multiple emoji representing adults and multiple emoji representing children to hang out together as one, single emoji.

Where Does It Come From?

That's the weird thing: We don't actually know. Burge notes that the Eye in Speech Bubble can't be found in any version of Unicode, from Unicode 1.1 all the way up to the current candidates for Unicode 9. How bizarre is that?

What Does It Mean?

Again, we don't actually know. It looks a little Orwellian to me (does it mean that Big Brother is watching?), but Apple Insider notes that the best theory is probably this: That it's related to video messaging or FaceTime. Personally, I also wonder if it might be a sort of a “placeholder” emoji for a symbol present in the Unicode standard, but not yet supported in iOS (kind of like what happened with that weirdo alien emoji when the emoji skin tone modifiers debuted earlier this year).

So there you have it — everything we know right now about the strange and mysterious Eye in Speech Bubble emoji. Fingers crossed we get a few of our questions properly answered soon!

Images: Emojipedia; Giphy (2)