Every year, the Unicode Consortium releases new sets of emoji, adding ever more options to our already big selection of smileys. Unfortunately, Android stores emoji on the system partition, along with fonts, so a full system update is required to get the latest and greatest on your phone — particularly a nuisance if your phone's manufacturer isn't known to provide fast OTAs. That might be about to change with Android 12. Some commits have been merged that would make emoji and fonts updateable without a new OS release.

The commits have been under development since November last year. Judging from the publicly available information, Google wants to remove fonts and emoji from the system partition and aims to add them to the data partition, where they would be updateable without root privileges or a system update.

Set up /data/fonts directory for updatable system fonts

- /data/fonts/files The updated font files are placed this directory. This files under this directory are readable by any apps. Only system_server can write font files to this directory.

- /data/fonts/config The font configuration used by system_server is stored in this directory. Only system_server can read/write this directory.

To ensure that no malicious actors could go ahead and break fonts across your phone, the font file is only writeable by the system_server. Applications only have read access, which is sufficient for drawing texts and rendering emoji.

Add /data/fonts/files directory

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).

XDA Developers already spotted these commits last year, but back then, they were still under active development and hadn't been merged yet, meaning it was unclear when and if we would see the change come to life. With the commits now merged well ahead of the prospective Android 12 beta, there's a big possibility that independently updateable emoji will come to the Google OS with the next release. Finally, no more waiting for an Android update just to get new emoji 🔥