Emojis have become an important means of sharing emotion and intention in messaging, especially due to the difficulty in conveying your tone through just words. New emojis are frequently added to the Unicode Standard, and typically OS upgrades need to be released to support those new emojis on a system level. Google has been working on making the font file that houses new emojis updatable without needing an Android system update, and today the company has hinted towards this being a feature of Android 12.
In a blog post, Google also announced that hundreds of the little fun icons — 992 to be exact — have been touched up and improved upon to make them more universal, accessible, and authentic, and there are new ones, too. For example, the emoji of a “pie” is now less American and references a “pie” as most of the world may know it, rather than a pumpkin pie.
According to Google, all apps that support the Appcompat library will automatically get the latest emojis from Google. No matter how old your phone is or how long it takes your apps to update, starting with Android 12, you’ll get the latest emojis in apps that use Appcompat. Currently, you can get the new Android 12 emojis on any rooted Android device, but rooting is obviously not all that user-friendly. Nothing is as simple as just having your apps automatically grab all the new emojis themselves.
Our friends over at Android Police did some digging to learn more about this announcement. If you’ve been following Android for a long time, the decoupling of emojis from the Android system might sound familiar. It certainly rang a bell for me, and I wasn’t sure why. As it turns out, back in 2017, Google said pretty much the exact same thing when they announced the support library called “EmojiCompat” which worked on API level 19 or above (Android 4.4+). First-party applications like Gboard and Google Messages take advantage of it (and it’s why you can get new emojis in Gboard), but very few third-party apps do. Basically, it might not be a part of the system but rather is something that developers effectively need to opt in to. Thus, it’s unclear to us if today’s announcement is in fact related to the newly added support for updating font files via Google Play Services.
When Android Police reached out to Google, they asked why a mainline module wasn’t implemented instead. “Mainline” in this case would mean that it’s a part of Android’s core services, but this is instead a GMS-core-oriented change that’s a part of Google Play Services and Android Jetpack. Google’s response amounted to saying that a GMS-core-integrated change required “no extra developer work”, and that sticking with the EmojiCompat approach means “it will work on older devices”. That seems to ignore the fact that Google is specifically advertising this as an Android 12 change, though.
Decoupling emojis from the Android system has been something that many people have called for, for a long, long time. Whenever new ones are released and iPhone users get them first, you’ll likely end up miscommunicating thanks to the lack of context of an emoji that might be getting used on the other side. Because they are considered “fonts” and fonts may finally be able to be updated in the /data partition on an Android smartphone, you might be able to get updates that will include emojis in the future through Google Play Services.
Either way, updatable emojis is a quality-of-life improvement that might seem silly to some people, but seeing as how emojis have become such a large part of our vernacular, it’s important for them to be easily updated and brought up to speed whenever necessary. We’re hoping that this is certainly part of the equation, anyway.