Frowny face: Emoji on Android is a crapshoot and it has to change

Emoji may be the national language of 12-year-olds, but that doesn't mean Android manufacturers should be allowed to include whatever emoji they want. It also means that if Google Play is going to allow other emoji keyboards in its store, it should support them at a system level. If I download a Deadpool emoji keyboard, I should be able to put my Deadpool emoji into a text message, they should show up as Deadpool emoji on my screen. Yes, even if they don't show up as Deadpool emoji on the other end, which is a different kettle of beans we can discuss later.

Just because we pretend to be adults who don't care about emoji beyond martini eggplant OK gesture doesn't mean emoji don't matter. And the way Android is handling emoji right now is shit.

Emoji on the HTC 10. It's a mixed bag.

These are the emoji on the HTC 10. Confused? So was I.

See, most of these emoji are the ones Google provide, but all the faces and some of the people are these faded lemon monstrosities. The pre-installed keyboard for the 10 is TouchPal, which in its settings has options for 'System' and 'Android' (Google) emoji. Except since the 'Android' emoji have to be downloaded from the Google Play Store, they won't show up in your text box or anywhere else outside the actual keyboard, even if you've downloaded and set them on the keyboard the phone came with. And if you have any other keyboard installed, like Swiftkey, that's the emoji they'll show, too, if not in the keyboard itself then in the emoji that they output.

My expression when this first happened matched the emoji precisely. Too bad the emoji themselves don't match.

Emoji on Android are rather haphazard in how they're outputted, actually. If there are emoji included in your system image or system keyboard, it doesn't matter what the smiley face looked like in your keyboard when you typed it: the one you're getting is the one that came with your phone. If emoji are typed that aren't in your system keyboard, they'll be outputted according to the keyboard you used to type them. Or on some phones, they won't be outputted at all, since the system will put a blank for emoji it doesn't have.

So, how do you know what emoji you're gonna get? Unless the keyboard that came on your phone was the Google Keyboard, you really can't tell without walking into a store, turning on a phone and typing one in.

A few years ago, when everyone was shipping phones with their own keyboard, this meant that every OEM had their own emoji for users, and they all looked terrible. Samsung looked one way, LG looked another, HTC looked another.

Samsung, LG, HTC, and Google emoji

In fact, that's still the case.

Yeah, emoji still vary (and suffer) on a lot of different phones, including a lot of today's flagships. And while it's not a feature that's going to wind up in a review very often, it is something that everyday users will notice. They may not know that their screen is 2K instead of 1080p, but they know that their smiley faces look different between their phone and their tablet. They may not know that the camera lens is made of polar bear tears, but they will know that when they look at twitter, it doesn't look as good or as funny as it does online, because the emoji look weird.

I feel your pain.

Moreover, the way emoji are handled on Android leads to a lot of confusion and downright frustration in the Google Play Store. Emoji keyboards on Google Play are practically a lie so long as your device defaults back to the crap emoji they came with instead of the crap emoji you clicked on in your keyboard. In fact, most 'functioning' emoji apps on Google Play aren't emoji at all: they're sticker packs. And that's not (always) the developer's fault, that's the device manufacturer's fault, and it's Android's fault for mishandling emoji.

Just as you can set different keyboards and language packs in Android, you should be able to switch emoji, too. If I can download a pack with the stock Google emoji and apply it to my keyboard, the system should accept and output those characters, just as they would special characters in a language pack.

Or, Google could tell manufacturers to give up the ghost on their trash emoji and force them to include the stock Android emoji. Little yellow blobs for all! Whatever their solution, this is a problem that Google should fix. It's not a big problem, like the continued delays in security patches for carrier devices, but it's a problem that Google has the capacity to solve.

They just choose not to. And I have an emoji for that.

Feel the wrath of the trident!

Ara Wagoner

Ara Wagoner was a staff writer at Android Central. She themes phones and pokes YouTube Music with a stick. When she's not writing about cases, Chromebooks, or customization, she's wandering around Walt Disney World. If you see her without headphones, RUN. You can follow her on Twitter at @arawagco.