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It's time for iPhone and iPad to get a Dark theme in iOS 10

Overcast on iPhone
Overcast on iPhone (Image credit: iMore)

At WWDC 2016, we got a preview of iOS 10's bigger, bolder new design language, but unlike the new version of tvOS, dark theming was conspicuously absent from the forthcoming iPhone and iPad operating system. I understand why the company chose to exclude it, but quite frankly: This is a mistake.

The reasons for (and against) a dark mode

Partial interfaces with dark dressing have been found in the iOS 10 code base, which might indicate Apple is still exploring the possibility. Since it's only a few screens for a few apps, though, it also might indicate Apple hasn't really made up its mind.

Many assume a future iPhone or iPad will use AMOLED display technology, like Apple Watch, and will need a power-saving dark mode to make the most of it, also like Apple Watch. Since 3D Touch is currently dependent on LED, though, and a future iPhone or iPad is, well, still in the future, I'm going to address why it matters even in the here and now.

As Rene has written about time and time again, there are many good reasons to institute a Dark mode or system-wide Night theme. White screens are hard on the eyes, even with Night Shift enabled, and a Dark mode may also help users with accessibility issues more than the standard Invert Colors option (which helps, but not much). Several default apps in iOS already support a Night mode, including iBooks and Maps; many third-party programs offer the option, too. And iOS 10's custom Color Filters accessibility option already allows users to tweak colors across the spectrum for various vision ailments — why not create a version of that picker that only affects toolbars and widgets?

Additionally, the iPhone and iPad are the odd devices out at this point: The Mac has a Dark mode. Apple TV is getting a Dark mode in the fall. Apple Watch has a de facto Dark mode thanks to its OLED screen.

But despite all the potential good will toward a dark theme, there are still arguments against it. For one, it takes engineering hours to reengineer graphics, and there are quite a few apps that would need to be reworked. Think about iOS 10's new notification and widget bubbles: Third-party designers and developers specifically would have to make sure that any content they include looks great on both the light-grey theming and a darker option.

There's also the question of just how many users would turn the thing on in the first place: With so many exciting ongoing projects at Apple these days, it's hard to dedicate weeks and months to an ultimately-niche feature.

Choice is wonderful

Here's the thing: With over one billion iOS devices, "niche" no longer means what it once did. Even if only 1 percent enable a Dark theme on iOS 10, we're still talking about ten million devices. Even assuming only a fraction of those billion devices are actively used, we're still talking about hundreds of thousands of users. On iMore alone, an informal poll resulted in over 2600 people claiming they'd upgrade or switch to iOS from Android to have a Dark theme, with 829 "possibly interested" and only 292 "Not interested."

There's precedent for multiple themes to fit user choice, too: The iPhone and iPad have had them externally for years now. If you want an iPhone with a white faceplate or a dark one, you can buy one directly from Apple — no external mods required.

Multiple iPhone colors may have been discussed as a "niche" market at one time, but that time is long gone: iPhones, iPads, Watch models, and even Macs have adopted multiple case colors.

If the supply chain can manufacture hundreds of hardware options to help users find the best fit for their style and computing habits, I bet Apple can spare the engineering hours to finish up Dark mode and launch it alongside iOS 10. What say you?

We'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 dark or night theme? Let us know below!

Serenity was formerly the Managing Editor at iMore, and now works for Apple. She's been talking, writing about, and tinkering with Apple products since she was old enough to double-click. In her spare time, she sketches, sings, and in her secret superhero life, plays roller derby. Follow her on Twitter @settern.

36 Comments
  • Nothing personal, but I have to point out every time I see this ... "White screens are hard on the eyes, even with Night Shift enabled ..." that it's absolute nonsense. There simply is no scientific or factual basis to the idea that white screens are any harder on the eyes than dark ones. None. The idea has been around as long as computers have been around because people get eyestrain in front of computers and blame it on that. It's simply a popular misconception. In the early days of low refresh rates on cheap CRT monitors, there was some scant evidence that the REFRESH rate (being low) caused eyestrain. That's the only actual evidence and those monitors went out of style in the early 199o's. I know from personal experience also, that when computer screens were ALL black, with light text on black (DOS), people still got eyestrain in front of computers. It's nothing to do with light or dark. Really.
  • I agree. White everything is by far my personal preference. And it causes no strain to my eyes. I also think it produces a "brighter" mood.
  • White screens may not damage your eyes, absolutely true. But it's still difficult to read a blindingly white screen at night over something with better contrast. Dark maps in the car are a blessing.
  • Night Shift or turning down the screen brightness work just as well. Sent from the iMore App
  • No research? "Figueiro hopes manufacturers will “get creative” with tomorrow's tablets, making them more “circadian friendly,” perhaps even switching to white text on a black screen at night to minimize the light dose (Sutherland, 2013)." Sutherland, Stephani. "Bright Screens Could Delay Bedtime." Scientific American. N.p., 1 Jan. 2013. Web. 24 June 2016. <http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/bright-screens-could-delay-bed.... I'll see if I can get my hands on the research paper. This is not a proper source. That said, it seems unlikely that there is no research, and that, in fact, research backs Caldwell's article.
  • I'll agree that it's not necessarily "light vs dark" but Contrast of background/foreground colours that is harder on the eyes than just the white itself. "Dark Mode" or dark themes tend to also have contrast changes that tend to lead to easier viewing. Also a point made above, there's a strong personal preference for dark themes out there; I happen to be one of them. Any chance I get to use a dark theme I do and I can speak personally to how it is less strain on my eyes.
  • The fact that I get a headache looking at a searingly bright display at night is, frankly, all the research I need! Sure, Nightshift helps--a little. And, sure, I could turn down the screen brightness--but, contrast goes with it. Both are half measures! Apple is better than that. (I hope!) There's absolutely no excuse to *not* have a dark/night mode by now! Unless, it offends Jony Ive's sensibilities... (Am I the only one who is annoyed by the mere sound of his voice?)
  • I've been asking for this for years!!! Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • I like the white theme. However, choice is great.
  • The recent leaks the latest week, spotted by Andy Wiik.. Is it possible this Dark theme code are way too early for iOS 10? Do you think it's "only" possible for iOS 11 and OLED screens? I really hope dark theme will be enabled in final version of iOS 10! So tired of sore eyes. Night shift doesn't help!! Reader mode helps when reading links. Sent from the iMore App
  • I especially love the white themes on full brightness when people feel the need to check their phones in a theater. That said, why doesn't Apple come up with a Theater Mode which switches the theme into a black format with grey text? Or you know, just not work while the movie is playing.
  • This is the smartest suggestion anyone has ever made on here! I would love a Theater Mode. Perfect for those annoying folks who have to constantly check their phones while at the movies. And I am not talking about the ones who have their phones out during the trailers either. I mean the ones that actually Snapchat parts of a movie and scroll through their Facebook feed.
  • I suffer from light sensitivity. When I switch to a dark mode on Ars Technica or Mac Stories, I instantly feel the difference. Speaking of night modes, iMore needs one. Ideally, the Safari could indicate to a website that dark mode is enabled. If that site has a dark theme, it could enable it. It would encourage websites to create dark themes in the interest of accessibility for people like me. (Thank God for the dark mode in Reader View in Safari. Too bad I can't comment with it.)
  • As somebody who is in the same boat I definitely agree. I do wish that iMore would add dark mode to their application. I definitely appreciate their effort's for a universal theme but I think it might be taken a bit more seriously if they were willing to do the same. Sent from the iMore App
  • Here here! MacStories only recently added a dark theme. Fact is, if iMore designed the site "correctly" with content/format separation, then a dark theme is easy to create. Multiple themes can be made, really (see http://www.csszengarden.com). I say "correctly" because getting perfect content/format separation is not easy.
  • Something I've definitely missed from my Windows Phone days. Dark theme and color profiles. Sent from the iMore App
  • Yea, it was a major disappointment when it wasnt announced. Even though I will upgrade this fall (Phone and IOS) I really feel apple is holding a lot back for the explosive reveal in fall 2017 including a dark theme to go with new 10th anniversary model and IOS 11.
  • Darkmode! Please! And For all you saying turning down the brightness or night shift is just as good, there is no way! Try this when you first wake up in the morning, it's still hard the eyes no matter how dim the screen is. By the time the screen is tolerable to look at because it's really dim, it'll also be unreadable. The difference is night and day, in a quite litteral sense, not to mention, long overdue! Sent from the iMore App
  • Agreed. When I heard about Night Mode but hadn't used it yet, I assumed it would be a joke. After I began using it, I definitely found it useful. So much that I actually keep it enabled all day most days except for when I'm outside. Sent from the iMore App
  • OS X has a partial Dark Mode.. I'd like to see Safari and Finder also support Dark Mode.
  • I don't see why any apps using the OSX UI elements can't have a dark mode as well, essentially it would be automatic for most apps
  • Absolutely.... NIGHT MODE!! I just read a comment where someone said that there's no proof that with Nightshift enabled that it's still hard on the eyes. Well, i'm using Nightshift right now, turned three quarters of the way up, and my eyes absolutely hurt... That's all the proof I need!
  • Ancedotal FTW !
  • Weather you like dark mode or not, to be against having the option is preposterous. Theming is a huge trend in Android. People really enjoy the ability to change up the colors of the UX. Since Apple doesn't like to give up much control of what your device looks like, this would be some low hanging fruit. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • Or, dare I say it, system skinning! RIP Flavours (http://www.flavours.interacto.net). :(
  • Preposterous you bloody ol chap! Remember padawan.....apple knows what you want and when you want it. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • I would love a dark mode. I used a Windows phone for a couple of years which uses the dark screens as standard. I switched to the light screen a few times but didn't like it. Please include it in IOS 10. Sent from the iMore App
  • I've also used dark theme/mode on both BlackBerry and Android and it makes it look very sleek. I think that Apple apps such as iMessage could easily be made to have this option as Apple itself would be in charge of the development. Please, Apple, make it an option. Device switchers will love you for it!
  • I would really love to see a dark theme on the final release of iOS 10. I even took the 6s Plus with the dark face plate, that's how much I prefer darker surfaces. Sent from the iMore App
  • An LCD screen uses more power to display black. It may be a choice to conserve battery, I would prefer dark mode myself, although not if it cuts battery life by 20% (or whatever).
    Apple may withhold it as an option on mobile devices until there is a switch to AMOLED or some other tech for screens, the watch already is using AMOLED.
  • Noooooooooooo. Don't try to fix something that is not broken!!!
  • It's not broke, but that doesn't mean u can get more battery out of the thing. If u have a black pixel, isn't that the same as a pixel that is off anyway ? why is it using power to display black ? WOn't affect me much those, since my phone last a week without charging anyway..... with OLED, it would be a super phone :)
  • I'd love it, coming from years on andoid before giving Apple another chance I have always used a dark mode and its one of the things I miss
  • Would suit me fine to my surroundings...
  • Back in the day the Samsung Galaxy had lots of black screens (dark mode) and I loved it !!!!!
    Black just looks more classy and HiTec.
    PLEASE put a dark mode "choice" on iOS 10 !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Cheers
    Davyo
  • Can we call it night mode instead of dark mode. Pls.