Apple released their biggest emoji update ever just two weeks before Christmas. This changed to the appearance of nearly every emoji, and (finally?) introduced the new Unicode 9 emojis approved in June.
With graphical changes continuing to take place throughout the beta, it's clear this was a big job, that must have taken place over at least the past 24 months. Emojipedia stats now show iOS 10.2 installed on more than 50% of iOS users' devices.
The Unicode 10 emoji list is not yet final, but popular additions are sure to be the giraffe, dumpling, and meditating emojis. It's looking possible that Emoji 5.0's regional flag support may also roll out around the same time, but could well be ready earlier in the year. More to come on this as draft and beta schedules are announced.
In 2017, expect to see vendors shipping new emoji updates as early as July in order to capitalize on any competitive advantage this may provide. Apple has traditionally waited for an iOS x.1 or x.2 release for emoji updates around September—December, but watch and see if that pattern changes in the coming year.
Read more in Issue 9 of Emoji Wrap.