The case for a Material Dark theme in Android
I love hex black and a dark UI!
You Nougat-lovers can’t deny,
That when an app installs in an itty, bitty space,
With a dark theme in your face,
You get sprung!
Google and Android are filled with white, white, white UIs. It wasn’t always that way, but it is now. The only real dark system UIs available right now are downloadable TouchWiz themes, and Google’s apps are whiter than my jean-365-days-a-year legs. Night modes have been toyed with in Developer Previews the last two years but have never amounted to much of anything. And really, even if they had stuck around, it wouldn’t’ve been the dark theme we wanted anyway.
Let’s get some terminology straight first, because we keep interchanging some similar but distinct terms. A dark theme is a UI that is primarily a dark color rather than white. Android itself used a dark theme back in the Holo days. There are a lot of apps with dark themes out there, frequently calling them night modes, but they’re wrong. Night mode should be reserved for the blue light filter that’ll keep your screen from keeping you up while you surf YouTube in bed. Some manufacturers have included blue-light filters in the past, and third-party apps have offered it, too.
We shouldn’t be lobbying Google for this. We should be lobbying everyone.
Then we have what I’m affectionately calling Material Dark, a Material Design-compliant UI based on a dark gray or black background with strong pops of accent colors. It’s not enough to ask for an app to have a dark theme; it needs to be a well-designed and tested dark theme that fits current developer guidelines. Material Dark is what we should push for in Google’s apps and in every app that we use and care about.
We’ve begged for a device-wide dark theme, but that’s not what we really need. We don’t need a toggle that switches your whole system from light to dark, because there are apps that I’ll always want in a Material Dark UI, apps I’ll only want to be dark at night, and apps that work better in white. Fun as it was to have that night mode toggle in my Quick Settings on the developer preview, it just wasn’t going to work.
And we shouldn’t be lobbying Google for this. We should be lobbying everyone. Lobby Google to give us Material Dark Google Apps — please, please lobby Google for Material Dark Google Apps — but ask the developers of your favorite apps if they could add a dark theme. Samsung has a dark theme for most of its system apps, so ask Motorola and LG why your Moto Z and your V20 can’t have a dark dialer for when you’re calling your designated driver at closing time.
Lobbying for Material Dark for individual apps rather than begging for a magical device-wide dark theme because individual apps can be easily updated with a dark theme without a system or device upgrade like any Nougat night mode would’ve required. It can reach more people and improve the experience for more users without having them shell out money for a new phone.
Think of this: how often do you open the Settings app on your phone? How often do you open YouTube? On which one would a dark theme matter more to you day-to-day? So why is it we bitch more about Settings not having Material Dark than YouTube?
The white, bright Material Design theme on YouTube can take users out of the videos they’re trying to watch and strain their eyes, meaning they’re watching fewer videos and Google is losing views. Why doesn’t YouTube use Material Dark — like YouTube Music already does — when users will get far more use out of it?
Google Apps aren’t the only apps that need to go dark. Facebook needs Material Dark. ABC News needs Material Dark. Pokémon Go really needs Material Dark, if not Material Black for the amount of power it could save AMOLED users. It can potentially double the UI work for a developer, but it’s a feature that users actively seek out in their apps, and can help apps stand out from the pack.
But we have to ask for it. Politely, repeatedly, and in numbers. I’ve been asking for a Material Dark Google Play Music app since the day they announced the current white/orange color scheme. I love pumpkin seeds — I will rock the jack-o-lantern music player! What apps do you want to see go Material Dark? Sound off in the comments!