Using screens late at night can cause eye strain and insomnia: we lie in bed looking at our iPads and iPhones all night and can't sleep because the blue light tells disrupts our circadian rhythms and tells our brains it's still daytime. For this reason software designers have put forward a number of alternative interface options that darken the screen or reduce the emission of blue light.
In this article we discuss Dark Mode on the iPhone (and iPad): how to implement the current features that allow you to improve nighttime viewing, such as Invert Colours and Night Shift, and when the official Dark Mode feature is likely to launch on the iPhone.
The nearest thing to an official Dark Mode on iOS at time of writing is a feature called Invert Colours. This turns white interface elements black and vice versa, which is roughly what Dark Mode does.
Open the Settings app and tap General > Accessibility > Display Accommodations > Invert Colours. You should now tap Smart Invert so its slider turns green.
Smart Invert doesn't simply invert all colours: it's smart enough to recognise images and media and leave them alone. (In Settings and other apps that Apple controls. You'll find that in many third-party apps it cannot do this, and inverts them anyway.)
Classic Invert, listed below Smart Invert, is the old interface option that inverts everything.
Apple brought Night Shift, which reduced the level of blue light being emitted by the iPad and iPhone, to iOS 9.3. (If you're running an earlier version you'll need to update to get the feature.) The colour-shifting technology reduces the emission of blue light, which is said to keep us awake and cause eye strain and headaches, and makes onscreen colours appear warmer and more yellowy.
We find it convenient to have Night Shift set on a recurring schedule rather than turning it on manually each time it gets dark.
You can do this via Settings > Display & Brightness > Night Shift. From here you'll be able to set up a schedule, including the option to have the iOS device automatically determine your location and enable Night Shift at sunset, then turn it off again at sunrise.
We look at this feature in a lot more detail in a separate article: How to use Night Shift on iPhone.
Here's another option that may improve your viewing experience at night. Open the Settings app and go to General > Accessibility > Zoom and tap the slider next to Zoom so it turns green.
Now go back to the Home screen and do a triple-tap with three fingers to bring up the zoom menu. Tap Choose Filter. In the next screen (pictured below), tap Low Light. This will darken the screen and make it more suitable for low-light viewing.
Back in iOS 10, Apple rolled out a range of Colour Filters in Accessibility. These include Greyscale, which somewhat imitates Dark Mode (although it's a bit extreme to lose all colour in iOS).
- Open Settings.
- Choose General > Accessibility > Display Accommodations > Colour Filters.
- Set Colour Filters to On.
We think Greyscale is the most relevant choice for nighttime viewing, but the other filters may help too. The other filters give you an Intensity slider (Colour Tint gives you a Hue slider too) so you can experiment to see what is best for you. Often you'll find that you notice the effect more on the Home Screen than in Settings.
Set Colour Filters to Off to return to normal viewing mode.
When will the official Dark Mode launch on iPhone?
It was widely expected that iOS 10 would feature a new Dark Mode viewing mode, with black backgrounds more suitable and restful for nighttime viewing. In the event, Apple announced exactly that, but for tvOS instead, and even after the launch of iOS 11, Dark Mode on the iPhone remains missing in action.
For a while it was believed that Siri offered a clue. Back in iOS 9.3.2, if you asked Siri to turn on Dark Mode, it would respond "Sorry, but I'm not able to change that setting." But if you asked about any other 'modes' you cared to make up - we tried Privacy Mode and High Speed Mode - it would say it didn't understand, or get confused and turn on something else. This all suggested that iOS recognised Dark Mode as a setting, even if it couldn't be controlled yet.
But this trail went dark. For a bit under iOS 10 Siri started mistaking "Dark Mode" for a Scene in the Home app instead; and in iOS 11 it's gone back to calling it a setting, but now says the same thing for the two imaginary modes listed above.
Nevertheless, we expect iOS Dark Mode to appear before long. Andy Wiik, an app developer who previously released screenshots of Messages running in Dark Mode, has now posted images of the Settings app in Dark Mode that he obtained by using the iOS 10 Simulator.
Picture credit: Andy Wiik
Wiik postulates that Dark Mode will be controlled by a toggle button in Control Centre, and supports this theory with another screenshot from iOS 10 Simulator, this time showing a sixth, blank button to the right of the lock rotation switch.
The idea of Dark Mode is a sort of extension of Night Shift, but instead of simply warming up the colour output of the screen after sundown in order to reduce disruption to the human circadian cycle and loss of sleep, it proposes a radical, system-wide interface redesign for nighttime. Instead of basing the interface around the colour white, it would be based around black - a much easier colour scheme to see and use at night, as evidenced by the strategy already being used by many satnav interfaces, as well as some Apple apps.
"An iOS Dark Mode would be modelled after what Apple has already done with the Apple Watch app for iPhone and dark themes in iBooks," explains Federico Viticci, who featured Dark Mode in his iOS 10 concept video, made with the design Sam Beckett. Viticci cites benefits of such a mode including increased contrast, higher legibility and improved accessibility for those with limited vision.
Dark Mode concept designs
Here's how Viticci envisions Dark Mode. We think it's a terrific, and well-executed, concept.
Picture credit: Federico Viticci/Sam Beckett
iHelp BR has also shared concept images on how the dark theme could look like. Below is an image from iHelp BR showcasing how the settings menu could look like.