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Will your next phone use dark mode by default?

Dark mode
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

We’re entering a new dark age. Developers are falling over themselves to develop dark versions of their apps in preparation for the imminent release of Android Q and iOS 13, with their system-wide dark modes.

This will apply not only to your phone’s interface – apps will also be switched to dark mode when you activate the option. In Android Q, any apps without a specially reated dark version will be ‘forced’ when dark mode is activated, which will adjust the interface colors automatically and potentially spoil the designer’s carefully crafted user experience.

Currently, Android features an interface-only dark mode, which can be activated manually or triggered automatically based on the color of the user’s chosen wallpaper. It might seem like a purely aesthetic choice, but there are also practical reasons for turning down the brightness.

One of the biggest of these is power-saving. Google’s own research revealed that darker interfaces are far less of a drain on system resources, and allow users to go longer between charges.

It’s also been suggested that bright lights from screens (particularly phones, which we often use in bed) can stop us getting a good night’s sleep.  Although blue light is often cited as a particular concern, some professionals, including  John O’Hagan of Public Health England’s centre for radiation, chemical and environmental hazards, say light on all wavelengths can disturb circadian rhythms, so limiting light exposure in general can help regulate your natural sleep cycle.

Finally, dark mode just looks cool. White interfaces have been the standard for so long, it’s refreshing to have a different option.

With all that in mind, why is light mode still the default – and could it change when Android R and iOS 13 roll around?

Turn out the lights

For both companies, going dark by default would be a huge change. The bright, white look has been an essential part of Google’s design language from the very beginning, with its origins as a blank page with a logo and central search bar.

It’s since added colored elements (as explained in its Material Design principles) but the clean, white design has always been central to its identity.

Apple has also long associated itself with clean, white lines – starting with the Snow White design language in 1982. However, it’s become much more adventurous with colors in recent years – and its fans seem to approve. The announcement of dark mode for macOS Mojave last year was met with much whooping and cheering (even more than usual for an Apple launch event), so it’s easier to imagine Apple taking the plunge and making dark the default.

Things might change on the Android front, too. Even if Google sticks with white for stock Android on its own Pixel phones, the likes of Samsung and Huawei might prefer the benefits of the dark side. After all, why wouldn’t they want to prolong battery life wherever possible – and provide the experience users are whooping for?

The future is dark.