The debate between iOS vs. Android is a pretty serious question. Choosing between the two necessitates some careful thinking about the experience (and phone) you want. The two operating systems are very different. And you’ll probably use a different set of apps if you choose Android over iOS or the other way around. However, if you’re a big fan of emoji, Android might not be the right platform for you. You can get emoji for Android, of course. But it’s a constant struggle to get the same characters your iPhone-toting friends are using.
We’d go so far as to say that if having the latest set of symbols is important to you, you’ll probably be happier with an iPhone than with an Android phone. Curious about why, when there are clearly plenty of emoji for Android? Read on, and we’ll break down the problem for you. You might be surprised at just how bad Android can be if these little symbols are one of your favorite things about using your smartphone.
1. Android has a big update problem, and updates are how you get new emoji
Android has a big update problem. That’s nothing new. But if you don’t typically read articles that discuss just how dire the situation is, we’ll bring you up to speed. Apple updates iOS itself. It can send a new version of the operating system to every eligible phone as soon as it’s ready. But Android is different. Google makes a few phones (such as the Nexus and the new Pixel). But for the most part, other companies make the Android phones we’re all using.
So when Google wants to issue an update for Android, it has to go through those manufacturers. Some Android phone makers are better than others when it comes to releasing fast Android updates. But for the most part, they’re pitifully slow. Apple can quickly get iPhone users a software update that adds new emoji. Google, on the other hand, can give manufacturers a new update, but it might take months for manufacturers to roll out that update to users.
2. You’ll have to wait months to get the same emoji for Android that iPhone users already have
The update problem doesn’t sound that bad. After all, you don’t really need all the latest features, right? Wrong. (Not least because those updates often bring critical security fixes.) Slow updates are also a major problem if you want to stay up to date with the latest emoji. Sure, updates often bring emoji Android users are excited to see. But symbols that are new to Android usually aren’t new to the rest of the smartphone ecosystem. And that’s especially true of your friends with iPhones.
Karissa Bell reports for Mashable that “most Android users will have to wait months, or even a year, to get the same emoji as their iPhone-wielding peers.” Those long delays are pretty bad. But at least you ultimately get the update (and the emoji for Android) in the end, right? Only for a limited amount of time. Most Android manufacturers issue updates for a given flagship phone for a couple of years. But at some point, the manufacturer will stop releasing new updates for your phone. At that point, you either can deal with the out-of-date software, or you have to buy a new phone.
3. When someone sends you emoji Android phones don’t support, all you’ll see are blank boxes
Emojipedia editor Jeremy Burge writes on the Emojipedia blog that Google’s design team was “months ahead of Apple with new emoji in the past year. Support for the latest emojis came to Android in the major Nougat release in August of 2016.” But that doesn’t help Android users who are at the mercy of manufacturers’ slow update schedules. Those users still can’t use the new emoji in their conversations with friends. In fact, they can’t even see those emoji on their Android phones. They just see blank rectangular boxes instead. That’s not exactly helpful when you’re trying to determine the intent of your friends’ messages.
What gives? Despite Google’s extremely timely updates, “emoji fonts and relevant Unicode support is provided at an OS level,” according to Emojipedia. Users have to wait for an update not only to get new emoji for Android, but also for the underlying support that would allow their phones to display the symbols. An extremely small percentage of Android users actually have the latest version of the operating system or any recent version, for that matter. And everybody with an out-of-date version of Android just sees blank boxes when someone sends them an emoji Android phones don’t support.
4. You almost have to rely on third-party apps if you want the latest emoji for Android
Burge points out that with Android’s dismal update situation, “it’s no wonder so many apps are providing their own custom emoji support these days.” What he’s talking about is the way that many popular messaging apps — including Snapchat, Messenger, WhatsApp, Telegram, and Slack — “all use emoji-replacement images on Android.” Burge notes that trend was “started by Twitter with Twemoji which was released when the most popular browser on Windows (Chrome) didn’t include emoji support.” WhatsApp and Telegram use Apple’s emoji images on Android, and they offer a custom keyboard to display them.
It can be a pain to replace your default texting app, but it might be your best bet if you want emoji Android hasn’t added support for yet. You have numerous great messaging apps to choose from in the Play Store, and chances are good that many of your friends are already using one you can download and start using, as well. It might be more difficult to persuade your parents to switch to a new app, but they’re probably pretty confused by the little symbols in the first place.
5. Android users don’t know how the emoji they use will show up on their friends’ iPhones
Another weird effect of the whole situation? The emoji Android users do have access to are displayed differently on other platforms, such as iOS. Unless you want to search for charts of the symbols before sending a text message, you don’t know how they’re going to show up or whether they’re going to convey a message that’s the opposite of what you intended. Meghan Neal reports for Motherboard that emoji are standardized by the Unicode Consortium to prevent egregious miscommunication. But the Unicode standard leaves room for interpretation, which means that cross-platform variations “can totally warp the meaning of what you’re trying to convey.”
Unicode explains that “while the shape of the character can vary significantly, designers should maintain the same ‘core’ shape.” That’s because “deviating too far from that core shape can cause interoperability problems.” No kidding. Smartphone manufacturers and messaging apps interpret the icons very differently. It’s hard to know how the emoji you’re using will look to your friends on other platforms. Neal notes that you can get a sense for the differences by browsing the different fonts on Emojipedia. Check out Apple, Google, and Samsung for starters, or bookmark Unicode’s comparison chart for reference.
6. Updates might never deliver the emoji Android users really want
“A phone that can’t see the last 12+ months of new emojis is crippled as a communication device,” Burge explains. He advises looking at Google’s Pixel phone, which is expected to get the latest Android releases for at least two years. And he also notes that Apple tends to support new software updates for each iPhone model for about four years. Emoji updates typically arrive between September and December each year.
But Android manufacturers other than Google tend to avoid making promises about if or when they’ll update their phones in the future. The reality is you may end up waiting in vain for your phone (and its emoji set) to be updated. “If you care about new emoji support be careful which phone you purchase,” Burge warns consumers shopping for a new smartphone. “Unless you like looking at empty boxes.”