Unfortunately, this new set seems like a big step down to me. The earlier Android set was very good at conveying its ideas symbols using very few colored regions, while this set seems to try to cram in as many details, outlines, and gradients as possible. Scott McCloud once said that drawings become more relatable the less detail they have, and I think this is especially important for emoji — the more abstract and simple, the more the user can relate.
I totally understand the problem of making users understood between platforms (see the early Android “hairy heart”, e.g.). No one wants to spend extra time wondering if their emoji will make sense on the other person’s platform. However, I feel that the previous design was already pretty much there. Android had a different style of cartoon frog than other platforms, but no one was going to be unable to figure out what it was. Instead, this set seems to take the common approach of “oh, well, Apple’s is the ‘default’ emoji set, so we should try and look like that one!” Is anyone really going to be confused when they see a pictogram of a person without eyebrows instead of with eyebrows, like Apple has? Why did the 😁 emoji become more like Apple’s, when the link in the post about differences between platforms shows that Apple’s was at fault for being less like the Unicode spec?
(This is just speculation on my part, but it seems like this may have been motivated in part by Android not wanting Apple to continue to seem like the “default” set while the Android emoji, designed to look like the head of the Android mascot robot, seemed like a specially-flavored “spinoff” set. The silver lining is that custom font sets have also been announced for Android O, so the emoji set may also be replaceable.)
Here’s where it gets more subjective, but I also preferred the way the older set used Material design philosophies, such as only texturing surfaces when necessary or to show physical transformation. The new set seems to take a more Flash animation-like approach and treat elements of faces (especially animals) as flat surfaces clearly delineated by contrasting outlines, often either circles or symmetric ovoids, floating in front of or behind each other. Unfortunately, combined with the gradients, this really does seem to invite comparisons to Newgrounds-era Flash games or art made in Powerpoint. The bright neon color palette looks much less “unified” to me, even if the facial expressions, etc. are drawn from the same library.
I’m really trying not to go on a big negative rant here, so I will say that I really appreciate how well Android does at keeping up-to-date with newer parts of Unicode’s emoji specs.