Nowadays, emoji are essentially a part of our normal language. That’s why it’s frustrating that, as it stands today, Android requires a full system update to add new emoji, leaving some devices hopelessly out of date. Soon, though, that may change.

As noted by the folks over at XDA, some unmerged commits to AOSP strongly hint that Google is preparing to allow emoji to be added to Android without the need for a full system update.

Currently, the font files used to handle emoji are held within Android’s system files, a portion of every device which is read-only. Technically, you can get around this with a rooted device, but for the vast majority of people that is absolutely not worthwhile. That’s why these commits are so exciting.

The updated font files will be stored to /data/fonts/files and all application will read it for drawing text. Thus, /data/fonts/files needs to be readable by apps and only writable by system_server (and init).

Apparently, Google will be allowing “system_server” to modify font files that opens up the ability to modify emoji without requiring a full system update. Right now, it remains unclear just how flexible this will be. It would be great to be able to swap out emoji packs just as easily as third-party launchers can swap icons on your homescreen (#bringbacktheblobs), but it also feels somewhat unlikely that Google will allow any app to do this on a whim. It’s much more likely that only system apps (such as Play Services) will be able to alter emoji.

Whatever the case, this is progress and something we can’t wait to see. Unfortunately, it’s just not clear when or if it’ll actually become a part of Android.


Update 1/27: Since these commits were first spotted in 2020, they’ve been merged into AOSP as the folks over at Android Police spotted. This comes at least a couple of months ahead of the release of the first Android 12 builds, which points to a possibility of this change making a formal debut in this year’s release.


Dylan Roussel contributed to this article.

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