On almost every OS and platform, support for new emojis usually requires a software update. This is generally the case with Android too: a new version brings the ability to display new emojis system-wide then Gboard gets updated to support sending those. We're on the cusp of a change, though, as Android 10 users have suddenly gained the ability to display and send 11's smileys through a combination of Gboard and Messages.

Let's back up a little. In Android 8.0 Oreo, Google introduced an Emoji Compatibility library that developers can implement in their apps to display emojis from newer Android versions even if the device is running an older one. The goal is to make sure you see the proper tiny image instead of a blank square when someone on a newer OS sends you a non-supported emoji.

Our best guess is that Google is using that same library in both Gboard and Messages, the first to send these Android 11 emojis on Android 10 devices, and the second to show them off.

Our tipster, Nick, first noticed it when using Messages web on his Pixelbook, but we got confirmation from our second tipster, Matthew, that it was happening on the mobile app as well with his OnePlus 6. You get the new Android 11 smiley design, which includes a lighter blue for all tears, a proper red for hearts, and no borders around faces. You also get the 115 new Unicode 13 emojis from Android 11, including the ninja, disguised face, smiling face with tear, pinched fingers, lungs, anatomical heart, polar bear, mammoth, blueberries, bell pepper, and more. You can't search for them by keyword, though, so you'll have to scroll and try to find them.

New Android 11 emojis on Gboard on a device running Android 10.

However, the new emojis don't always show up in the keyboard. Redditor u/theprogrammerx shared a comparison of what he sees in Gboard on his OnePlus 7 Pro: In Messages, he gets the Android 11 emojis, while in Twitter the existing Android 10 ones appear. Chrome doesn't support them either.

Same Android 10 device, same Gboard version with Twitter (left) and Messages (right).

This tells us that Google has either enabled this in Gboard only when Messages is at the forefront, or it's checking if a foreground app has the Emoji Compat library in general and activating the emojis accordingly. We haven't received a confirmation that this is working anywhere outside of Messages, so it could be that it's really just limited to that app. Shortly after publishing the post, we got confirmation from a third tipster who is seeing the new emojis in Gboard when using WhatsApp as well, except WhatsApp can't properly display them after they're sent. So it's not clear what Google is using as a requirement to surface them in Gboard — perhaps they're limited to messaging apps?

Gboard can send the new emojis in WhatsApp, but WhatsApp doesn't show them.

Our tipster Matthew is using Gboard v9.6.16 beta (APK Mirror) and Messages 6.4.039 beta (APK Mirror), but despite running these same versions (and upgrading to newer ones today), I can't get the new emojis to show up on my Pixel 4 XL with Android 10. We checked other devices too and didn't see them, so the feature seems to be a limited server-side test. I'm really looking forward to when it's widely available and, hopefully, compatible with all apps with the Emoji Compat library. Waiting for a whole new software update to get a few smileys seems like an overkill requirement in these modern times.

Gboard - the Google Keyboard
Gboard - the Google Keyboard
Developer: Google LLC
Price: Free

Messages
Messages
Developer: Google LLC
Price: Free
  • Thanks:
  • Matthew Garbett,
  • Nick Cipriani,
  • Abel