Gboard Emoji Mashup HeroSource: Jeramy Johnson / Android Central

What you need to know

  • Code commits in the Android Open Source Project Gerrit indicate that Google could make it possible to update emoji outside of its annual system updates.
  • The earliest we would see these changes is probably going to be around the release of Android 12.
  • If implemented, Google could update emoji and system font files via the Play Store.

Like them or hate them, new emoji are a highlight of platform releases on Android and iOS. It's not just because of the plethora of new glyphs that are added with each update, it's also because new emoji can only be added with a new system update. This would be fine if everyone was using a Pixel, but the pace of Android updates from major OEMs still leaves a lot to be desired. Thankfully, Google may be about to alter that dynamic for the better.

New code commits (spotted by XDA Developers) made to the Android Open Source Project will allow fonts to be updated without the entire system needing to be as well if adopted. Emoji are system fonts, hence why they'll benefit from this change.

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As the XDA Developers team explains:

These commits essentially make it possible for the system_server process to write updated font files to the /data/fonts directory. The data partition is mounted as read-write, so with this change, Google is allowing only the system_server process the permission to write to this directory. All apps will then read the font and emoji files from this directory for drawing text. Thus, updated font files, and by extension new emojis, can be pushed to the phone without needing an entire OTA update for this purpose.

As for all this could work once implemented, there's really one realistic option — Play Store updates. Google has been working on updating much of Android's core via the Play Store, and adding fonts to this list makes a lot of sense. It's possible that Google could end up letting users change emoji with apps just as we can do with launchers and keyboards, but that's unlikely to be the case.

In any case, the soonest we'll see the effects of this change would be next year's Android 12. The company would still have to merge this change into its code and then roll that out via a system update, so new emoji remain hostage to updates for a while longer.

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