Android users, your days of missing out on half the context of text messages from 14 year old girls is over. Google finally added real, honest-to-god support for the colorful little icons known as emoji, making them a built-in part of the official Google keyboard app.
In Android versions past, getting to the emoji was like navigating a rainforest in the dark. In Android 4.1, you typed words like "smile" and picked a picture from the word suggestion list, but you had to memorize all of the "command" words. In Android 4.2 and 4.3, you had to long press the spacebar to select the input method, but not until you first installed the proper language pack, and even the faux-mojis didn't look like everyone else's. Now in KitKat, they're easier to get to and they look like the colorful icons mobile users have come to expect.
Hidden in the keyboard
The latest version of the Google Keyboard rolled out last week with emoji support, but you actually need KitKat to use them in their entirety. Those not on Android 4.4 will see a severely limited list of characters, as exhibited in the screenshot below.
To enable emoji, you'll have to install a specific keyboard pack. Head into the Language and Input panel in Settings. Tap on the settings for the Google Keyboard and scroll to the bottom to select Add-on dictionaries. Tap on Emoji for English words and Android will begin to install the language pack on your system. If you don't see the option, go back into the Language and Input settings and disable "Use system language" under Input languages.
Android's emoji support is pretty well hidden. It took a few rounds of tap-and-hold to figure out how to get to them.
In any text entry field, hold down on the Return key and select the Smiley Face icon. The Google Keyboard will then display the emoji in all of their glory. You can tap through the varying categories to choose what you need, or select the clock icon to see the one you most recently used.
Not like iOS's
The emoji your friends see on iOS only slightly resemble the ones that Android uses. Here's a quick comparison of emoji across both platforms.
Regardless, it's relieving to know that now Android users won't be left out from dressing up their texts and emails with cute characters and icons.
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.