Getting access to the latest emojis currently requires an OS update on Android. That’s because emojis and other fonts are stored in the read-only /system/fonts directory. Considering the ever-evolving and constantly updating nature of emojis, Google is reportedly exploring the possibility of updating emojis without requiring an entire OTA update on Android.
According to recent commits on the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) Gerrit spotted by the folks over at XDA Developers, Google might be preparing to relocate fonts and emojis from /system/fonts to data/fonts directory. As a result, you might be able to update emojis without a system update.
At its current state, manually replacing system emojis requires root and Magisk modules. Although the process is quite simple and just requires a restart after installing the module, the mandatory requirement of root access has stopped a lot of Android users from manually updating emojis. To make things worse, the fragmented nature of Android and inconsistent updates from OEMs have long left a significant portion of Android users from using the latest emojis.
Going forward, Android may use data/fonts/files directory for fonts and emojis. This directory will be writable by the system_server process and readable by apps on your phone. Unlike the read-only /system partition, opting for /data partition removes the dependence on an OTA.
With all that said, do keep in mind that the developers at Google have not merged these commits just yet. Hence, we can’t be sure when this change will get reflected in Android. While current or older Android phones may not benefit from this change, this could help streamline the emoji update process in the future iterations of Android. If everything goes according to the plan without any major hiccups, we could expect to see updatable system fonts and emojis on Android 12.