Seeing color emojis - Android vs. kernel versions
I changed my s3 mini to CM 10.2 custom ROM to get android 4.3.1 with kernel 3.0.1-novafusion. I noticed that I can only see default black android emojis when I insert emojis (with a keyboard with emoji support). My boyfriend has Asus PadFone Infinity (bless him) which has version Android 4.1.2 and he can see emojis perfectly with his stock phone (recently came back from maintenance, so it's basically at its factory settings).
I've done extensive research on colored emojis and all I could find was that seeing system-wide colorful emojis* is only supported in KitKat (4.4+), which was at odds with my experience if I just compared android versions. (*I can insert emojis with any keyboard, but when I hit send it converts to the font based black android image set).
So is actually the kernel version much more relevant than the android version in this regard? How many of different features actually derive from the kernel rather than the android? I.e. would it be more that you could add anything to your android (OS) but it just doesn't do anything if the kernel doesn't support it?
And final hypothetical question. When it comes to upgrading my phone, if my hardware is not designed to handle KitKat 4.4+ android versions, does it have to do more with the kernel than the android version? In other words, how much does a new android version change the way your phone works and how much are updates based on kernel updates?
Reason I'm asking is because my boyfriend's padfone looks exactly like android 4.3 rather than 4.1.2, despite the system saying that it's android version 4.1.2. Then again I have an older kernel version and I was able to update it to 4.3 with CM, so I'm not sure how much each part controls what, and why it's such an issue to support color emojis in older _android_ versions?
Hopefully this makes some sense to someone.