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Fade to black: Why Android's dark theme rumors don't matter anymore and matter more than ever

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We have cookies! (Image credit: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

The whispers have started up again, the way they do every few months before the next Developer Preview or the next version release. Maybe this will finally be the year Android N brings back the dark theme. Android O will have a system dark theme! Android P has to have a dark theme!! It's a new year, and now the song has started up again. At last, at last, Android Q will be the one to do it, to bring back the glorious dark theme that Android had so long ago.

Except we already got that dark theme back years ago. What we need now is beyond any dark theme we've seen before, and it goes far beyond Android.

HOLO YOLO, anyone?

[[ image has a burned-in watermark ]]

When I came to the Android ecosystem at the beginning of 2012, I was enamoured with its deep charcoal hues and soft blue accents. To be sure, Android was still rough around the edges in those days, but that Holo color scheme was one I had to be dragged away from. I cried when Google Play Music's UI was inverted from charcoal and blue to orange and white, and for over five years, every time I contacted Google Play support, I asked them to give me back my dark theme.

These blinding white UIs made Android unbearable at night — especially when my eye strain was stabbing me by sunset — and, oh, how I wanted a dark theme back. It's one of my rallying cries: #DarkThemesNow #DarkThemesForever! But around the time of Oreo's release, when the system dark theme vanished into the ether once more, I had an epiphany: we have dark themes now, on more Android phones and better Android phones than ever.

OnePlus 6T Themed Quick Settings

The OnePlus 6T's three-mode, hex-color accented theming system is just about perfect, so much so I actively wish Google would steal it, but that would only solve half the problem. You can get a dark system theme now, but that system theme only reaches a handful of manufacturer apps and system popups.

Android already has better dark system themes than ever before.

What we need is a dark theme that will reach all of your apps and services — not a system-wide dark theme but an ecosystem-wide dark theme — and that's the dark theme that Google has been struggling with for the last five years. We've seen a rise in dark themes both from third-party apps and Google apps; YouTube on Android finally got a dark theme last year. We've seen Google admit that black themes are better for battery. We've even seen teams for various Google services testing dark themes in various shapes and forms.

YouTube Dark Theme

But this is a dark theme that's going to go beyond Android, and with that in mind, I ask two small favors of you. Firstly, please keep pestering every service and app you love for a dark theme if they don't already have one yet. Building a dark theme is a useful feature — and it can be a major boon to readability for users with failing vision — but it takes effort, time, and user demand, so users, demand darkness!

Second, the next time you see someone whispering in a forum about Google bringing back a system dark theme with the next version of Android, remind them that we already have system dark themes. It's an ecosystem dark theme we need, and there's still a lot that has to happen before we get it. In the meantime, we need patience, persistence, and cookies.

The Dark Side always needs cookies.

Ara Wagoner was a staff writer at Android Central. She themes phones and pokes YouTube Music with a stick. When she's not writing about cases, Chromebooks, or customization, she's wandering around Walt Disney World. If you see her without headphones, RUN. You can follow her on Twitter at @arawagco.

31 Comments
  • For me dark theme matters a lot, I hate the fact Android 5 lost it
  • I agree. I despised all that was lollipop! I refused to have any device with the dreaded 5. What was wrong with how KitKat did things, anyways? I still have a smartphone on KitKat.
  • My favorite thing is when sites like this complain about needing a dark theme when their own site is solid effing white!! I agree but make the changes yourself before you complain about other things blinding you.
  • The AC Android app has a dark theme, and I've lobbied for one for years, but there's only so many hours in a day for our tech team and they have been busting their butts making sure everything works properly and looks damn good — a job they are absolutely stellar at. Stay tuned.
  • What are you talking about Ara? "making sure everything works properly and looks damn good -- a job they are absolutely stellar at"? Are you sure... Are you, absolutely, 100% sure? Because I'M pretty sure, that changing 3 numbers in a CSS file isn't too difficult to do for a website. Because I'M pretty sure, that this 'new look' for AC is HORRIBLE and designed by mutated monkeys! Seriously! Who thought that this layout was 'good'? You can't tell what is what anymore, you can't see a title and also a snippet of the actual article like you used to.. forcing people to go with your bullshit advertising clickbait... You guys post more advertising articles than actual ANDROID related news... You talk about Bluetooth headphones, Bluetooth speakers, video games, Playstation, Xbox, VR, Laptops, Chromebooks, BEAUTY SUPPLIES, smart switches, smart devices, IoT stuff, you name it, you guys have made some article about it... Its INSANELY rare that there's anything actually 'Android' related posted on this site anymore! And what usually is posted that's Android related, are things like THIS complaining about a Dark Theme... This wasn't an article... this was someone who had a thought while using their phone at night in bed, and went "I gotta rant about this..." This isn't 'news', nor entertainment, nor information... This was purely just a 'rant'.... So no, I wouldn't say your 'tech team' is busting their butts off trying to make everything work properly and look 'damn good'... they're either A) working their butts off making a website look horrible because someone else is making them, B) working their butts off making a website look horrible thinking that it actually looks great, C) not doing ANYTHING and just saying that they are, D) not doing ANYTHING and everyone else damn well knows it. So while yes, this here is also a 'rant', at least its also calling out the BS you just tried to feed all of us... Android Central is no longer "ANDROID.... CENTRAL" Its now "Videya Game, Sponsorship, Paid Advertising, IoT, Smart 'Stuff', TV, Amazon, Speaker Central"... Nothing 'Android' about it.
  • What are you blathering about? AC has had a dark theme option since I've been using it.
  • The desktop version doesn't. That's what he's talking about.
  • Desktop? I bet he's also whining about Windows 95 not having a dark theme.
    I kid. ;-)
  • Actually, Win95 does have a dark theme
  • It would be really nice if the website had a dark theme
  • I'l type a intelligent and fun answer as soon as my eyes adjust to going from Ars Technica's excellent night theme to whatever is going on on Androidcentral.
  • First off let me say I'm surprised that anybody can comment. Second that's why I use the Android app.
    Because if I had to stare at Android Central website I would go blind within 3 minutes
  • Try the app's dark theme Or do what I do and invert your screen when my eye strain acts up.
  • There are browser extensions to theme pages dark. Except on Chrome for android, which is why i don't use it.
  • I don't understand the thrill with a dark theme, but that's me. What I want are colors that are more subdued and nuanced. Instead of bright green and red's hitting me in the face I want colors that don't exactly have defined names. Different shades of greens and blues, colors that are mixed together to make another beautiful shade that has not commonly used. Colors with accents in them. Something different, not black, not white and not so bright as to be in your face.
  • I really don't care about a dark theme. The only dark apps I want are e-book readers, and they have them.
  • Android needs a full theme engine, though I've been jebaited by Google enough that I don't believe they'll ever release even a proper dark theme. Even if they do, they'll only take it away in the next version. We do need cookies... That's why I'm refusing the Pie update and sticking with Oreo. Rootless substratum for life!
  • Eh, rootless substratum is cool, but too much effort for my lazy ass. I just try to main phone that have good dark system themes, and OnePlus's is the best I've seen yet.
  • Yeah but OnePlus's system doesn't affect third party apps. Using things like Instagram without a black overlay on top of it is pretty much asking for an early visit to the ophthalmologist :P
  • This is where Google is just plain retarded. Their mentality is to use AMOLED screens which save battery life by only illuminating pixels that are not black. Then they change the entire OS to pure white so you get the worst efficiency out of an AMOLED, because you are using it for what it was not really designed to do. You get the complaints about color shift which would be much less noticeable if you went with a dark theme. But for some reason, Google can't figure out how to do this, even though this was throughout the OS just 5 years ago. Google just shrugs and hopes the other manufacturers will figure it out for them.
  • This right here!!! ^
  • Looking squarely at you Instagram and Facebook.
  • Ecosystem? Sounds like Apple. Could be dangerous to Android.
  • Goodle os needs true hub messenger that works exactly and smooth like hub on bb10, the hub on android is garbage and not build on the system.
  • Really? Yakking about BB10 here? :-P
  • Yet again, completely agree.
    In fact, that's pretty much the reason why I stick to Samsung phones. They offer by far the best theme engine on Android and I can pretty much cover everything in black (not disgusting dark grey as Google does, black). When Android Oreo came last year, and rootless Substratum was possible, I for a moment thought that I could also finally give stock Android phones a chance.
    And then Google decided to play the c*nt card and blocked it with a BS excuse, without even bothering to work on a substitute or solution. They did it "because they can" and that was the end of it. Needless to say, the few stock Android phones I have are all on Oreo pre-March security patch and there they will remain until further notice. But the fact that Google has the nerve to say that they know black themes are better, that they know people want them...and STILL do nothing to deliver that to their users just show me beyond a shadow of a doubt that they do NOT care about what their consumers want, they just care about what Apple does.
    The day Apple introduces a Dark Theme on iOS, you can BET that Google will rush out to do the same on Android just to copy them. 'cause that's all they know how to do. As for third party apps, every single Play Store app that I use that does NOT have a Black Theme has a 1 star rating from me (and the ones that I can't fix with Substratum I don't even use anymore). If developers don't listen to feedback (and fortunately, most of them do...the exceptions being, as usual, the big corporations) then I'm also not going to help their app ratings on the Store.
  • Here, Here! I've been demanding the dark UI also.... since Kit Kat. Every year I wait in anticipation hoping will it really be? I prefer it also because I have light sensitivity in 1 eye. So therefore I'm often forced to use 3rd party apps that provide dark themes.
  • That's why I love Substratum theming. Apart from all the colour options, it's nice to have a dark theme across the system but also apps. I love how consistent it feels to have your favourite apps all have the same colour. I don't need a #075E55 coloured top bar to know that I am in Whatsapp.
  • Yeah, but Substratum and other root/rootless complex customization apps are big, bulky, and often tedious workarounds to a problem that needs to be fixed not at the Android level but the entire ecosystem level. App and web developers should be highly encouraged to offer a AMOLED-friendly dark theme alongside their more traditional light UIs, both as a matter of efficiency (users can use the app longer if the app uses less battery) and accessibility (properly done AMOLED black high contrast themes are easier to read, especially for users with visual impairment.
  • Do not care for it. A WASTE. I can download and install if I wanted a Dark Theme.
  • Seems like that Android could spin this as a feature to persuade the manufacturers to hurry along upgrading to Q - "Hey , did you just get burnt by the don'tkillmyapp scandal ? Upgrade your phones to Android Q and get an extra 10% battery life!"