Emoji allows for creative forms of self-expression not possible through mere words. The tiny little icons have gotten a lot more customizable since their inception in 1997. Google added support for multiple skin tones with Android Nougat in 2016, and while it's great to see folks from all over represented, the increased number of modifications did introduce UI challenges. Now Gboard is rolling out a new interface that makes selecting between different combinations of skin tone a little bit easier.
Rather than showing up in a simple grid list, the new UI displays options in an ordered table format, with columns and rows to make selecting the right skin tone combinations easier. The rows represent the person on the right, while the columns correspond to the person on the left. The new UI only shows up when an emoji has more than one person in it.
Left: Single person emoji are still laid out in a grid. Right: Pairings now get a table with skin tone options in rows and columns.
Another change is that you can no longer long press and drag to select a skin tone. The selection UI stays on the screen until you tap on the combination you want. I consider this a bit of a downgrade in terms of speed, but I'm sure some people will appreciate it.
The new skin tone selector seems to be rolling out via a server-side switch. It isn't tied in with the Gboard beta program, since I'm running the stable version 9.6.15 and have it — chances are everyone will be seeing it before too long. Android 11 is set to debut with even more new emoji that utilize skin tones, so it's nice to see Google working on improving usability. The Gboard team has been up to a lot these days — they're certainly not bored.