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25 July 2017

How Google is trying to fix Android’s emoji problem

Android has an emoji problem.

No, it’s not those weird blobs (RIP), but something that’s been nearly as tricky to fix. Because of Android handset makers’ inconsistent updates, not only do many Android users not get new software updates in a timely manner, they don’t get new emoji at the same time as their iPhone-using counterparts.

While Google will probably never really fix its fragmentation problem, the company is working on a fix for the emoji issue, as highlighted Monday by Emojipedia.

Up until now, new emoji releases have been tied to Android updates. This meant that Android users often had to wait weeks or even months to get the latest emoji characters. 

FOMO aside, this can also cause very real communications problem when you’re texting with someone who does have the new emoji. Instead of seeing the cool exploding head emoji, you just see a crappy box.

But, beginning with Android O, Google will make it easier for developers to implement new emoji without relying on Android updates. Now, all a developer has to do is add a few lines of code (officially, this is called the EmojiCompat support library) and their app will be able to render the latest emoji characters — even if the person is using an outdated version of Android. 

Better still, this is compatible with older versions of Android all the way back to Android 4.4 (KitKat), so this should help fill in the emoji-sized gaps for a considerable amount of Android users. (Nearly 80 percent of current users, according to Google’s own statistics.)

Of course, the downside of all of this is that it depends on each individual developer to make the change. So adoption could still be inconsistent as not every developer is likely to adapt their apps quickly. 

Still, it’s a relatively easy fix that stands to make a big difference and I’d be surprised if the major players — many of whom are already individually supporting emoji updates — don’t make the change.

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