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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 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.

78 Comments
  • They definitely need a more universal emoji that all OEM should stick with. I actually didn't mind the gummy looking ones, I thought it was unique to Android and was a way to separate us from the dark side that is Apple. I would not be against using the same Emoji that iOS users have, just agree to a standard and stick with it.
  • The thing is that most people I've talked to hate the stock Android emoji.
    Because they're so different to what everyone is used to of how emojis should look like. If Google just made their emojis round(the smileys that is) I think many manufacturers would stop trying to make their own emojis. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Actually Windows Phone uses those emoji too. Posted via the Android Central App
  • No. AT&T Galaxy Note 4
  • Windows phone ones are the ugliest ones I've ever seen.... I use twitter plug in on mine.
  • Boom!
  • Those Google Hangout emojis :D we had some fun with them.
  • They all look fine to me. Focus on things that matter instead.
  • Use symbols and speak with your words. :) Posted via the Android Central App
  • Yes! This! I've given up on trying to make sense of emojis on Android and this post helped me realize how insane it is.
  • I wouldn't mind the UGLY AS EFF yellow blobs if they actually matched what other emojis are portraying...but they don't! Most of the time the expression that I'm seeing on the yellow blob translates to something entirely different in 'normal' emojis.
  • I read a piece on Medium covering the wild world of Android Emoji (https://medium.com/matter/lost-in-emoji-translation-apple-vs-android-648...) and how it differs to the perceived "standard," iOS' emoji. While I agree that there needs to be a true universal standard on Android on WHAT emoji is offered (I mean, if on iOS we can get SKIN TONES instead of acting like they took shots of folks from The Simpsons, why can't Android?) why can't Google recode Android so that it when i have a Samsung device i can see and use Samsung's own emoji but HAVE the option for Google's own emoji available? Surely that won't take boxes of elbow grease... This Galaxy Note 3 with the AC App is On Fleek.
  • I believe that's already available (skin tones) in the Android N beta. It's coming, along with even more emojis than iOS currently has. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Stop it with the "Fleek" crap. How very 3rd world ghetto.
  • Third world ghetto doesn't even say "Fleek" like Americans do...
  • Do you visit third world ghettos very often? Posted via the Android Central App
  • I think your use of "Ghetto" is more annoying that the use of fleek.
  • no need to recode. you can change emojis on your note even without root. emoji is just a font, you can use skin tones with the right keyboard like kika, or even make your own if youre not feeling any of em. (you can replace it with any picture)
  • There is a fairly easy way to fix this. Just make it where you can long press on emoji to see a description of what they are depicting, just like you can do with most icon only buttons on Android. Unicode.org has a several word description (the name attribute on the link below) of every one and it makes it easy to understand what is being conveyed since the icon itself isn't always obvious. http://unicode.org/emoji/charts/full-emoji-list.html
  • Did HTC replaced it's own keyboard? I have HTC sense input instead of touchpal. And on my keyboard, I have the Google emoji's
  • My HTC 10 shipped with TouchPal. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Honestly I prefer the emoji made by HTC than those ugly ones Google made. They look horribly childish and cartoonish compared to what iOS has. But it's just a personal preference tho. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Mine shipped with touchpal too, but I immediately installed Google keyboard Posted via the Android Central App
  • Get rid of them. Fixed Posted from Nexus 6 running Android N
  • No.
  • Yes. Google Nexus 6P
  • easy. put the emojis on a system level then make the a keyboard api that pull from that resource rather than once built into the keyboard. this way htc and sammy cant make it their own. there is no good reason for the emojis to look different so there is no good reason google doesnt just bake them into the os. the crappy emoji packs in the store can remain since they are for suckers anyway. they will likely fizzle out of existence anyway because people download them in hopes of getting emoji like someone else has.
  • Lol so many long answers just no is what i think of emojis. Posted from my Nexus 6/Nexus 7 2013/Surface Pro 3
  • No kidding. No to emoji and selfies. Posted from Nexus 6 running Android N
  • Nice to see a few others that think the emoji thing is ridiculous. Posted via the Android Central App
  • :)
  • This. Google Nexus 6P
  • "... And the way Android is handling emoji right now is ****." Quality journalism here on AndroidCentral.com.
  • HA! Comments are subject to censorship filters, but editing an article is not. (thumbsup)
  • Isn't that *********? Posted via the Android Central App
  • Yah I mean what the **** AC. :D "Tony, Steve said a bad language word" Posted with my LG G4 6.0 via the Android Central App
  • Sure can tell who is going to vote for 'The Wicked Witch of the East'. Was that polite enough? Posted via the Android Central App
  • Don't you read The Verge? Cussing in articles is all the rage right now. All the cool kids are doing it! Posted via the Android Central App
  • Gizmodo too. Posted with my LG G4 6.0 via the Android Central App
  • Another reason to use W10M. Emojis show up the same across phones and even on my desktop. Posted via the Android Central App
  • What's the other reason? Just joking!
  • Ha!
  • I thought I read a study that the google emoji were the most accurate. At the end of the day, they are like a font not a picture so that font may or may not translate the same across the spectrum. Maybe once we get more enhanced rich text formats there will be the ability for your emoji to convey across as you intend regardless of the recipients phone.
  • For all I care emoji can die, just a waste of many a company's resources.
  • +1 Posted from Nexus 6 running Android N
  • -1
  • I had a Galaxy S7 for a few weeks before bailing and going back to iOS (6S Plus). I was surprised when I sent Android emoji to my wife, who still had an iPhone, and saw that the emoji I sent looked nothing like what she got. Now that I am back on iPhone, I don't use emoji with my non-iOS friends because I don't want to potentially cause confusion or possible misunderstandings because it looks completely different on Android. Also, can I just add that those Google blob emoji are just wretched? I mean they are just terrible.
  • couldve just used an whatsapp/ios style emoji plug in, emoji is just a font, use the same "font" if its a big deal
  • PREACH!!! 100% AGREE !!! I hope Android/Google is reading this Posted via the Android Central App
  • Textra messaging app will allow you to use and receive all of the new ones. Even the ones from thee new IOS update. Plus you can theme them. Once you stop getting blank boxes you never go back! Posted via the Android Central App
  • I wanted someone to write about this, but though I like Ara dearly, emoji, it's more confusing the more (or faster) you read it. I loved the emoji Tapatalk brought out in 2014,brilliant and comprehensive, I thought this was the new standard. They appear on forums as intended, but nobody knew how to use them or get them or how they will appear or how... Oh I give up too.
    It's a crapshoot. Emoji.
  • I can think of 1000 things Google should address on Android before the Emoji "issue". #facepalm
  • I never use emojis and never see a need in them only with a boyfriend I'd use them with but that's even rare at times. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Why can't we just all use Unicode for emojis? Then everyone's happy *would have put emoji here but you can't comment with emoji* Posted via the Android Central App
  • What's funny is that this app does not support emojis they should add support for it Posted via the Android Central App
  • I don't know firsthand but I believe rottenapple has way more emoji's than android. Android does need to step their game up in this department. It's not a difficult task either Posted via the Android Central App
  • All I have to say is... YES! Posted via the Android Central App
  • Isn't there a Unicode standard for emojis? Supposedly, yes: http://unicode.org/emoji/charts/full-emoji-list.html Maybe keyboard makers can include a "Unicode standard emoji" switch?
  • Yep. And every Android OEM follows the standard exactly how they are supposed to follow it. Saying emoji from different companies need to look the same is like me deciding that all phone cases need to be green.
  • Seriously there is emoji overkill out there. I have no idea what half the happy-ish faces or half the eyeballs-looking-while-not-quite-smiling faces even mean. While Facebook's new Like approach is a bit barren, I applaud them for keeping it to the basics. We don't need happiness on a scale of 1-20 represented in emoji.
  • Handy guide for figuring out what they all mean. http://unicode.org/emoji/charts/full-emoji-list.html
  • I know it wouldn't solve all the issues, but what happened to EMS? It was the precursor to MMS and allowed you to put tiny emoji in SMS. This way the emoji you send, would at least look the same on the other end. Wouldn't help for chat, web etc...but it would be something.... Posted via the Android Central App
  • I think Google should set Android stock emoji as standard all across every Android device. Right now it's a total mess. I don't even use mines anymore on my S7. They're truly horrendous. Posted via Samsung's beast S7
  • Really!?!
    In a post about emoji's, i can't even Use an emoji!!!
    :[ (old school, then) posted via the AC App on my Note 5, or G Tab s2
  • That's funny I posted about the same thing before checking the comments again. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Meanwhile the the AC app doesn't even support emoji Posted via the Android Central App
  • Use your big kid words Posted via the Android Central App
  • Don't like emoji? Don't use them. They're built into the operating systems because most people wanted them. Most who didn't have access to them complained about not having them...so now they're baked in. I couldn't agree more about their being a standard...I understand everyone is trying to be unique, but for those of us that do use them, and I have Android (GS7E) and iOS ( iPhone 6) it's annoying to send something to a friend and have them confused at what I sent and vice versa or the character showing up as a blank box...imho. Posted via the Android Central App
  • The vast majority of the world's devices are android. You really think the Birkenstock wearers over at Apple will give up even that much control? Better like getting hummer behind a dumpster in Hollywood by Milan Kunis.
  • I have Birkenstocks. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Is this really that big a deal? Sheesh. #firstworldproblems
  • Lol...great piece:))
  • "he rest of you couldn’t care less since you think emoji are for 12-year-old-girls" Bingo!
  • Honestly the stock Android Emoji look the worst to me. Posted via my Black S7 Edge
  • I just wish emojis are the same across all platforms (iOS and android alike)
  • "Yes, even if they don't show up as Deadpool emoji on the other end" That's actually the fundamental problem. Language is for communication, if the message gets twisted end to end and changes meaning it's useless. That's where we are now.
  • It would be even cooler if they allowed us to install different emojis like we do with fonts (on devices like Samsung, HTC and LG that allow apk font installation.)
  • Just use Emoji Switcher. It requires root access but it's awesome. It's one of the main reasons I bothered to root my device. I can't stand the Google emojis and prefer the ios ones, once installed it's something you never need to think about again. It also helps with Apple releases new ones so you aren't getting that useless square box because your system doesn't know what was sent.