The case for a Material Dark culture on Android
I love hex black and a dark UI!
You Android-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 third-party apps and Google’s apps are whiter than my jeans-365-days-a-year legs. Night modes have been toyed with in Developer Previews the last two years but have never amounted to much — and it’s been left out of even the Developer Previews on Android O.
Really, even if they had stuck around, it wouldn’t’ve been the dark theme we need — or want — anyway.
A dark theme, a night mode, and a Material Dark app.
Let’s get some terminology straight first because we keep interchanging some similar but very 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.
And we shouldn’t just 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 G5 Plus and your LG G6 can’t have a dark phone app so you won’t burn your retinas answering a call at 5 in the morning to fill in for a sick coworker.
Lobby for Material Dark for individual apps rather than begging for some magical device-wide dark theme because individual apps can easily add a dark theme without a system or device upgrade like any system 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.
Also, 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 watch fewer videos and Google loses views. Why doesn’t YouTube use Material Dark — like YouTube Music already does — when users will get far more use out of it?
It can potentially double the UI work for a developer, but Material Dark is a feature that users actively seek out in their apps, and adding one can help developers make their apps stand out from the pack. But we have to ask developers to take the time and effort 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!