Night mode is back and (we hope) it's here to stay

When I joined the Android world, Google Play Music All Access had a dark theme to it, and I absolutely loved it. I savored those darker hues when listening to my music late into the night. Then at Google I/O 2013, they unveiled All Access, and a shiny, white UI to go with it. And I wept, for my beloved dark theme was gone. Soon, white UIs took over all the Google apps, and over most of the system, as the once-dark Settings app went white in Lollipop.

Now, in the Android N developer preview, some of apps are reclaiming their darker UIs with the newly returned Night mode. And I hope that maybe, just maybe, dark themes will return to more individual apps.

In Android M's developer preview, Night mode was hiding in the Developer options, but it was pulled from the official release. This year, it's back, but it's in the System UI Tuner, in a new section called Color and appearance.

Like a lightswitch, you can flick Night mode on or off

Night mode has more granular settings this year rather than a simple on/off/automatic choice like last year. After enabling Night mode, you have the option to have it come on automatically based on your location and time. You can also manually toggle it from the settings menu or from the Quick Settings page, if you prefer.

At the moment, while night mode can implement a dark theme for the Android system, it does not change the theme in third-party apps, or even in Google's apps. However, in Android Support Libraries released in February, Google did announce new DayNight theme protocols to help developers easily create both light and dark themes for their apps. They also highly encouraged them to test them, as many hard-coded colors don't play nice in dark themes. This was a relatively recent addition to Android, so they might be holding off on the Night mode setting to switch between DayNight themes until more developers have had time to implement them.

There are three attributes to Night mode that you can mix and match to your content:

Look at the lovely, lovely darkness.

  • Use Dark theme for Android OS: This changes the Settings app, the built-in file manager, and system popups (like the power off menu) to a darker color scheme. It doesn't extend to the notifications or the Google apps yet, which is a bit of a downer, but there's still time for that to be added in another preview.
  • Adjust tint: This will add a warm hue to the screen. Some studies say that bluer hues can interfere with our sleep cycles, so many night mode apps use a red or yellow tone to counteract it.
  • Adjust brightness: This will dim the phone at night. If you use adaptive brightness, you may not notice much change. If you keep your brightness cranked up, this can tone it down at night when you're likely in a dimmer environment.

It may not be great if you wanna edit pictures, but the red tint can help you from staying up longer.

By allowing dark and light themes to be supported on a system level as well as an eventual per-app level (if DayNight is eventually controlled by Night mode), Google would give users a higher level of choice. For those who like being blinded every time they open their phone, the boring white day theme is there for them. For those of us who remember DarkHOLOYOLO, we can once more savor a night theme that is easier on our eyes.

There's always a chance they can take Night mode out again, but I'm very hopeful that we can keep it this time. I also need to say that even if N is a preview for third-party developers, Google should be leading by example and showing devs how night mode looks in Google's own apps. If you're going to tell developers to implement a night theme for their apps, it should start with yours.

Google, you can start with Play Music. I'll be waiting, dancing in the dark.

Ara Wagoner

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.