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I'd still love a dark theme in iOS 12

iOS 11 has shipped. So has iPhone X. We have dark themes for Apple Watch and Apple TV. But we still don't have one for iPhone or iPad. Including Apple's first OLED model. And that means right now, as Apple is starting to spec out iOS 12, it's time once again to lobby for one.

The brightening

iPhone's interface used to be a combination of black and gray. Part of that was because older graphics processors couldn't composite as well. Part of it was pin-striped style. But, overall, it wasn't as bright.

Then iOS 7 shipped with a redesign that not only moved skeuomorphism away from rich textures and towards rich physical interactions, it also repainted everything bright white.

It makes the iPhone and iPad look clean and spacious, which is fine for everyday use. When it comes to low-light situations, though — like the home theater or the bedroom — the intensity is enough to get you yelled at or hit with a pillow. When it comes to accessibility, it's also enough to contribute toward eyestrain.

Because there's no system-wide dark mode in iOS, some people resort to using the newish Smart Invert Colors. It reverses the colors on screen except for things like photos, videos, and apps that are already using dark themes.

It's the next best thing but it's not ideal.

Going dark

Apple's iBooks already has a proper dark mode: You can manually switch it on or set it to turn on automatically at night. Rather than invert colors, it sets them appropriately for low-light conditions. It makes the white background black, the black text light gray, and blue and green tint colors the right shades of gray. Importantly, it leaves pictures, photos, and other graphics as they were, so they maintain the proper colors.

Likewise Maps, which helps when navigating at night.

Some App Store apps include their own dark themes as well. In Fantastical (opens in new tab), you can toggle a light mode on in the app's settings. In Tweetbot (opens in new tab), a Twitter app, you can swipe down with two fingers to switch between light and dark modes.

Many apps don't provide the option, though, and even those that do vary in their implementations. That leads to an inconsistent experience.

Apple Watch, by contrast, has a dark mode as its only mode. Because Apple Watch has an OLED display, and OLED is incredibly power efficient when the screen is dark because it doesn't light up any of those pixels.

Apple TV has a dark theme as well but, since it's plugged in, it's not for power efficiency reasons. It's to keep the screen from being overly bright when you're watching at night or in a dark room.

Dark Theme vs. ThemeKit

iPhone Home screen

iPhone Home screen (Image credit: iMore)

Unlike Apple Watch or Apple TV, iPhone and iPad have the Safari web browser and websites remain primarily bright and white. So, even a dark theme won't solve all of our power efficiency and low-light problems. But I still think it would be a great feature to add.

If Apple could provide a dark mode for all its apps, it would still go a long way toward making the iPhone and iPad more usable and more comfortable in the dark.

Take it a step further and provide a "ThemeKit" framework for its standard UIKit interface system, and then any App Store app could tie into it as well.

That way users could choose Dark Mode once in Settings and have it automatically enabled everywhere, in every app that supports it, all at once. Like Night Shift and True Tone, Dark Mode could live in Settings > Display and Brightness, and be toggled on or off from Control Center at any time.

For developers, a framework could conceivably let them tweak parameters and set colors so that their app's interface looks exactly the way the developer wants in either light or dark modes. Or in other modes entirely.

It would open up another level of customization on iOS, one of the few remaining features Android owners still say prevents them from switching.

Dark/Night

To nail a dark mode system-wide, and to make it work for developers as well, is no doubt a monumental task. In theory, something like CSS could be a model for a full-on theming engine. In practice, a legion of devils lurk in the implementation details.

Either way, every time I turn on my iPhone in the dark and my eyes squint for a moment as the world goes suddenly white, I'm reminded how the lack of a dark mode remains a problem. And solving those kinds of problems is what Apple does.

I've filed this feature request with Apple. It can be found at rdar://19760524 (closed as a dupe of rdar://11786790). Do you want a system-wide night theme? Let me know!

Rene Ritchie
Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

26 Comments
  • I agree. I wasn't too bothered about a dark theme before the iPhone X, but now the apps with a dark theme look so much better. It's not just because of the notch, but also the bezels. Darker apps just seem to take up the whole face of the phone. They obviously don't have more screen space, but they feel like they do. Maybe Apple didn't want to release a ThemeKit now as they are all about "owning the notch" and didn't want to be perceived as providing a way to hide it?
  • Agreed. A true black dark mode could make the unibrow and thicker bezels liveable.
  • I visually impaired so whatever it just make it for me to read is great
  • Yep, IOS has won my switch from Windows Phone thanks to a recent iPAD pro purchase and Google's Pixel screen issues being the nail in the coffin for current clean Android option for me in this round. As a switcher by necessity (waiting on my X) I'm really missing a dark theme even on the IPAD (whilst retaining true colour). I like the Win10 dark theme but having had OLED windows phones for years I really prefer it on a mobile device.
  • Two thumbs up. I did not care much before the current strange synchronicity that has made app developers decide that a glaring white background is just what we want in their iOS 11-compatible updates. "My eyes, my eyes!"
  • Add another vote for dark theme - no more seared eyeballs at night or in a dark theater - and stretch that battery even longer with the OLED in iPhone X.
  • Yes, definitely want a dark theme! One of the features I miss from my BlackBerry.
  • HOW ABOUT NOW!!! We’ve been asking for Dark Mode since iOS 7, what do we have to do to get it already???!!!???!!!!
  • It will come, just not sure when. People are usually requesting OS features for at least a few years before it finally becomes available in iOS
  • Agreed. Dark Mode is my #1 request. My number 2 request is to put all the settings within an app and not in the settings. It’s kind of ridiculous that the settings app is a huge scrolling list and we have to jump between the settings app and the app itself all the time. For example, when I want to shoot the camera at 24fps, I have to set it in the settings app - can’t do it in the camera app. If I want to change it to 30fps, I have to bounce between the two apps as well. All settings should be unified into the app itself.
  • Definitely agree with the unified settings. Most camera apps on the App Store have the settings built-in too
  • Probably the main reason why I’ll still jailbreak, if one is still released. Give me Dark mode and I’ll raise the white flag on the cat and mouse game.
  • ...and, since, we've been asking for this since iOS 7...it seems obvious to have done this now, now that they have an OLED display that would take full advantage of dark mode!?! Does everyone working for Apple have iPhones with white bezels??? WTF?
  • It'll either come in an iOS 11 update or it'll come with iOS 12. I'll be very surprised if we don't have it by iOS 12, given the iPhone X has an OLED screen now
  • One of the biggest problems I have with no dark mode, is the INCONSISTENCY, (which, for Apple, you'd think they opt for CONSISTENCY), with Apple Maps app. It goes into "Night mode" ONLY WHEN DOING TURN BY TURN DIRECTIONS. When you are searching or setting up a route on apple maps, it is GLARING at you at night, until you hit turn by turn. Aggravating!
  • The idea is not to have a glaring screen in the corner of your eye whilst driving as it could be a distraction, i.e. leading to a car accident. When searching/setting up a route, you're assumed to not be driving so that's not an issue
  • It needs to come. With the OLED screen, it just makes sense. Maybe in a future update to IOS 11 (one can dream)
  • If it's not in an iOS 11 update then I think it will be here in iOS 12, otherwise it will be a huge missed opportunity with the OLED screen on the iPhone X
  • I purchased the iPhoneX specifically for the OLED screen as it is capable of a true “Dark Mode”, which I have been screaming for forever! Please Apple, give us Dark Mode ASAP!
  • The article seems to imply that iBooks and Maps have individual dark mode options. I cannot find such options. Have they perhaps been replaced by the OS wide Night Shift mode?
  • #1 request is transparent dock on the home screen. #2 would be the ability to theme, including dark.
  • Sweet and Sour Jesus could you please stop with the dark mode crap?
    We've been hearing about this since before iOS 7 and it's not happening. Please stop.
  • You mean like general -> Accessibility -> Display Accommodations -> Invert Colors -> Smart Invert? Too bad developers don't seem to put any effort into being compatible with it. I'd sure like to use it on my iPhone X (both to save power and preserve the display).
  • I used to use a total dark theme (or as much as possible) on BlackBerry 10 and it made the UI look very sleek. Even in daylight I preferred the dark theme on every setting and app that had it. On iOS it’s the same. I set every app possible to a dark theme but would love it system-wide as Rene described. Please do it, Apple!!
  • Tests have shown that even the existing dark mode saves a lot of battery life: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=O2tjWI7NarM
  • It seems emoji's are more important than real upgrades and updates. I've never been able to grasp the emoji thing. It has no real benefit. You're adding a cartoon pic to a message. BFD!!! Hey Apple, can we have real progress? Something more substantial than cartoon characters please?