Emoji and Downgrading iPhone Apps

The second part of today’s column details how to downgrade to an older version of an iPhone app. In other words, suppose you have CoolApp 2.0 installed on your iPhone but you would like to revert back to version 1.9. Can it be done? Yes. I’ll explain how. Still, you may be asking another question at this point: not how, but why? The answer to that is contained within the first part of today’s column — which delves into yet another largely unexplored topic: Emoji for the iPhone (and Apple’s restrictions on its use).



iPhone users in Japan have the option to enable Emoji. These are a collection of primarily cartoonish characters, such as the familiar smiley and sad-faced emoticons (Figure 1). With the Emoji option enabled, you can access the Emoji from the iPhone’s virtual keyboard and include them almost anyplace that accepts keyboard input. Use them in Notes or in Mail, for example.

Figure 1Why only in Japan? Because that’s the only location where Apple permits the feature to work. As Apple states: “Emoji picture characters can only be sent from an iPhone running OS 2.2 (or 2.2.1) with a SoftBank email account and a SoftBank SIM.” SoftBank is the iPhone carrier in Japan.

If you want to use Emoji and you don’t live in Japan, don’t worry. iPhone “hackers” have have already circumvented Apple’s restrictions. You have two main options.

If you are willing to jailbreak your iPhone, use a utility such as Property List Editor on your Mac to modify the com.apple.Preferences.plist file in the /private/var/mobile/Library/Preferences/ folder of your jailbroken iPhone. Add a KeyboardEmojiEverywhere property, with a Boolean class and a value True.

For those who wish to stay away from jailbreaking, there is a wonderfully easy alternative. A few iPhone developers have placed an Emoji-enabling Easter egg in their apps. The app that I chose is the free Spell Number (Typing Genius also performs this trick). The details of how to enable Emoji with Spell Number are clearly explained on this Web page.Figure 2

Whatever method you choose to activate the option, you also have to turn it on via an iPhone setting. To do this, go to Settings > General > Keyboard > International Keyboards > Japan and enable Emoji (Figure 2). Now, from the virtual keyboard in any supported application, tap the Globe icon (to the left of the Space bar) until the Emoji options appear. You’re good to go.

You may still have some trouble. For example, when I sent an email containing Emoji, it displayed correctly on the receiving iPhone (even one that did not have the Emoji feature enabled) but failed to display correctly when viewed on my Mac (see the characters above “Sent from my iPod” in Figure 3). Another Apple article provides more background on Emoji-related troubleshooting. Still, the feature works well in a variety of situations and can be fun to try.

Alas, this is not quite the end of the story. For reasons known only to Apple, the company wants to strictly enforce its Japan-only rule. As such, it recently instructed developers of apps that enable Emoji to remove the option in the next update to their software. That’s why the just released Spell Number 1.04 no longer offers the Emoji Easter egg present in the 1.03 version (although the app’s description page in iTunes mysteriously says “come back later if you want to enable Emoji”).

[Minor rant: For crying out loud, Apple. Why should you care whether or not I use Emoji characters? Why can’t you just leave it alone? More and more, it seems as if you’re behaving like the Big Brother that you lambasted in your 1984 commercial for the original Mac. Enough already!]

Figure 3One bit of good news: After using an app such as Spell Number to enable the Emoji option, you’re home free. If you later update to a newer version of Spell Number or even remove the app altogether, the Emoji option remains. Only restoring your iPhone’s OS software (or, presumably, updating to a newer version of the OS when released) will wipe out the Emoji option. But that’s a problem for another day.

This finally brings us to the rationale for downgrading an iPhone app. Suppose you installed Spell Number 1.03 but never got around to enabling the Emoji option. Now you update to the 1.04 version and discover, too late, that the option is gone. What can you do? You can temporarily downgrade back to the older version.

Downgrade an iPhone app


In order for you to accomplish this downgrade trick, you obviously need a copy of the older version of the app (Spell Number 1.03 in this example). That’s why I recommend making a backup copy of your entire Music/iTunes/Mobile Applications folder in your Home directory. This folder contains all the app files (in .ipa format) currently in your iTunes Library. Now, no matter what apps get updated, you still have the older versions in your backup. Of course, you will want to periodically prune and update this backup folder.

What if it’s too late and you’ve updated to the newer version of the app before you made a backup? Don’t despair quite yet. If you have not emptied your Trash since updating, the older version of the app should still be in the Trash. Just retrieve it.

If you’ve already emptied your Trash, now you can despair. There may be some way that you could use a copy of the app downloaded by another user. However, DRM obstacles make this unlikely.

For the following steps, I am assuming that you have a copy of the older version (e.g., Spell Number 1.03) tucked away and that the newer version (Spell Number 1.04) is currently on your iPhone and in your iTunes Library.

Step 1. Delete the app from your iPhone. To do this, tap and hold on the app’s icon in the Home screen until the icons starts to jiggle. Then tap the X icon in the upper left corner of the app. Tap Delete when the message pops up.

Step 2. On your Mac, go to the Music/iTunes/Mobile Applications folder of your Home directory, locate the .ipa file for the app you just deleted from your iPhone and drag it to the Trash.

Step 3. Empty the Trash to delete the .ipa file. This is critical. Do not retain the file anywhere on your drive. Not even in the Trash. Otherwise, at least in my experience, iTunes will keep track of the moved file and use it when updating your iPhone. Should you later want to get the deleted file back, you can always download another copy from the App Store for free, even if it’s a paid app. If you wish, before deleting the file, you can create and store a copy (ideally on another drive).

Step 4. Move your saved copy of the older version of the app (Spell Number 1.03 in our example) to the Music/iTunes/Mobile Applications folder. If the Finder names of the two versions of the app were different, change the name of the older version to match that of the now-deleted newer version (I doubt this is really necessary, but I played it safe).

Step 5. Check the app’s icon in the Applications section of your iTunes Library. It may display as a generic icon and, if you double-click it, you may get a message that says “…the original file could not be found. Would you like to locate it?” If this happens, click Yes, and navigate to the file that you just placed in the Mobile Applications folder. Select it.

Step 6. Connect your iPhone to your Mac. Assuming you have chosen to sync only “Selected applications,” go to the Applications tab of your iPhone and make sure that the check-mark for the app in question is enabled.

Step 7. Click the Apply/Sync button. The older version of the app should now be installed on your iPhone. Success!

With Spell Number example, you now have version 1.03 installed and can use it to turn on the Emoji feature. After enabling Emoji, you can reinstall the newer version of Spell Number (if you wish) by deleting the app (both from your iPhone and iTunes) and re-downloading the app from the iTunes Store. At any later time, you can always get back to the 1.03 version to re-enable Emoji if needed (such as after a Restore of your iPhone’s software).

While the steps here focused on Spell Number, the same instructions should work with any app on your iPhone. Have fun.