Will Apple Finally Announce Dark Mode at WWDC 2017?

And What It Means for Mobile Developers

Update: While Dark Mode won’t be released in iOS 11, I’m still holding out for the future. Although, Apple did release a Smart Invert feature which is pretty close!

With the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) a little over two weeks away, many rumors and speculations have been floating around as to what iOS 11 will actually include. Among them include group FaceTime calls, a new video-based social media platform, improvements to our favorite personal assistant, and yes, a Dark Mode option.

What Exactly is Dark Mode?

Officially and currently, Dark Mode is an option on the Apple TV that modifies the style of the user interface and third-party applications to show a reversed color scheme. Traditionally dark text is placed over a light background, but with Dark Mode enabled, light text is shown over a dark background. The change in design tends to be easier on a user’s eyes, especially when they are in a dark area.

Instead of a bright and luminous display on the TV, which can light up an entire living room, Dark Mode is just that — a dark mode. It is meant to be a more appropriate options for those in dark rooms or watching at night, though people do choose to use it at all times.

Dark Mode would likely serve a similar purpose on iOS. Users would no longer have to drop their brightness to the lowest setting simply to use their phones from their bedsides or to sneak a peak at a text in a movie theater. Apple’s response to eye strain in dark areas was Night Shift in iOS 9.3, but the feature only works so well at night.

History of Dark Mode

Dark themes are nothing new to Apple who has been subtly incorporating them throughout their platforms for a few years now. Apple’s WatchOS practically lives on an inconspicuous Dark Mode, following in the footsteps of tvOS and MacOS, which itself has had its own dark feature for a while.

You can enable Dark mode on MacOS by Selecting Use dark menu bar and Dock in the General window of the System Preferences

MacOS has supported a dark mode for a while now, with the setting hidden in the General window of System Preferences. The preference changes both the dock and menu bar style. The dock takes on a charcoal-colored backdrop while the menu bar switches its background for a darker variant and paints its text and icons a contrasting white.

Both the Watch and Clock apps run a Dark Mode as their primary interface

iOS contains multiple apps with their own Dark Mode, including the Watch and Clock apps. The Watch app enjoys a dark feel to match the natural design of WatchOS. The Clock app turned the lights off a few years back to be easier on the users eyes late at night as they fumble around a dark room and edit their alarms.

Some people have even found hidden settings in iOS that enable a Dark Mode for the Settings and Messages app, which hint that Dark Mode will eventually be coming.

Apple enabled a dark keyboard a few years back alongside dark navigation and tab bars to give developers the option to support their own dark themes. The update was parallel to the iOS 7 update which included customizations for the colors of the navigation and tab bar. Apple could have foregone the dark bar styles and allowed developers to create their own dark styles, but instead integrated it to create a conformance for light and dark themes.

The Apple Watch app uses a dark navigation and tab bar as well as a dark keyboard

Dark Mode was expected to arrive with the iOS 10 update released last fall, but we had to settle with the tvOS version for the time being. At the time a Dark Mode on iOS didn’t serve a functional purpose to match the iPhone 7’s new features, but the next iPhone may actually benefit from it.

Why now?

About this time each year rumors begin swirling around the next iPhone. By now, the general consensus is that the iPhone 8, by that name or another, will have an OLED display. What’s the big deal, right? An OLED display is unique because of its capable to light up each individual pixel without the need for a backlight.

For those of you who have an Apple Watch, which does have an OLED display, you surely know what I mean when I say only certain pixels actually light up. Most of the screen is actually turned off, which saves a large amount of battery on the tiny device. Without an OLED display and the low power consumption that comes with it, it would have been impossible for the Apple Watch to last an entire day on a single charge.

Apple Watch with the Modular Watch Face, where the background’s pixels are not actually on

That means that an app with a black or dark background will not actually need to light up the majority of its real estate — and that translates directly to reduced energy usage. Or the key words that Apple might just use are:

“…20% better battery life while using Dark Mode…”

And that may just be a YUGE selling point for their new and highly-anticipated iPhone.

On top of that, it turns out that Siri has all but given away the exact time that Dark Mode will be released. If you ask Siri to Enable Dark Mode she will let you know that it is out of her abilities. But, she does know that it exists and it is as a setting! Comparing this to a bogus Invisible Mode, which Siri is unfamiliar with, it is clear that there is something called Dark Mode in the works.

While Siri has never heard of Invisible Mode, she is at least familiar with Dark Mode as of iOS 10.3

What Could this mean for Developers

Depending on how your app is currently designed, incorporating Dark Mode may not be too complicated. It is likely that the setting could be available to developers in a manner similar to how a device’s locale is available and that the specific parameter would return a Boolean true/false value.

let darkModeEnabled = UIDarkModeSession.shared.isDark
let theme = MyTheme().instance
theme.style.isDark = darkModeEnabled

(Keep in mind that this is psuedo code and only a guess as to how Apple may choose to give developers access to this setting)

Many applications are already built with a modular theme so that design changes can be made in one location for the entire app. These apps should require minimal changes to support a Dark Mode feature. Apps that have colors and theming scattered across multiple files will have a more complicated change to deal with.

What are your Thoughts?

Will the option for Dark Mode finally arrive with iOS 11? Do you think that it is actually a long-awaited feature? Let me know in the comments below!

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