What is Dark Mode and Why Should I Care?

September 14, 2021

Dark Mode is a UX/UI design concept that is based wholly on the end user - you!  There are two view modes on the web and mobile devices, or as we like to say, screens and more screens.  They are "light" and "dark", or what some call "night" and "day" mode, and if you use sites like Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, or Pinterest, you have the option to use "dark" and "light" mode while navigating their content.

There are three reasons these modes exist, and the assumption that all of them are good is simply untrue, so let's get a few myths out of the way before we discuss the reasons.  Dark mode is not necessarily better for your eyes.  When we get calls for iPhone app development in Bakersfield, we are occasionally asked if developing a mobile app using dark mode is better on the eyes, but the truth is that the verdict is still out. 

First, and foremost, if you are building a mobile or web application for a small business and your intended user audience are your own company employees, then dark mode probably should not make it to the "features" list.  Not only is “dark mode” not a feature, but most small businesses operate during daylight hours.  You must also consider the added programming costs associated with adding "dark" mode.  It's not as easy as writing a few lines of code.  There's the occasional company that might have employees working into the wee hours of the morning, and for those companies, maybe, but to date, we've yet to have anyone ask us to include "dark" and "light" mode into the design of a platform.  So, let's look at the reasons why you should care about dark mode.

Reason 1:  Assuming you are using an app or web application that offers both modes, people believe that it helps lessen the strain on their eyes.  This is true, but also false.  For people who suffer from migraines, there's a long perceived belief that being able to access screens using dark mode reduces the amount of whiteness exposure on the eyes, but according to Brian M. DeBroff, MD, the director of Cataract and Intraocular Lens Implant Surgery at Yale Medical Ophthalmology, in an article published by Business Insider, "Dark mode will reduce the levels of blue light that are emitted from the electronic device's screen, but probably not to an extent that will influence any damaging effect of blue light on the macula...".  He went on to say "Whether the blue light can affect melanin production and circadian rhythms is a popular claim, but also yet to be scientifically proven".  To expand further, there's the issue of "blue light", which according to Web MD, is the light emitted from screens, and specifically, the fluorescent and LED (light-emitting diode) light bulbs that produce blue light, which is exactly what you are looking at when you are using dark mode.  According to Fatoumata Tanoga, MD, in the article "Does blue light from electronic devices damage our eyes?", published by Wexner Medical, "While there’s no strong scientific evidence that blue light from digital devices causes damage to your eyes, there is a growing concern that blue light can have long-term effects on our health." 

Reason 2:  People believe "dark" mode saves battery life, and that's true, at least some of the time.  According to a study conducted by Purdue University, in an article published July 28, 2021, entitled "Dark mode may not save your phone’s battery life as much as you think, but there are a few silver linings", “The Purdue study found that switching from light mode to dark mode at 100% brightness saves an average of 39%-47% battery power. So, switching your phone to dark mode could allow your phone to last a lot longer than if you had stayed in light mode."  There have been numerous test studies, prior and since this study, and results are mixed.  Some show having no impact at all, while others, like the Purdue study, show a significant increase in battery life. Unfortunately, there are too many variables associated with trying to get a clear answer, such as model types, the age of a phone, the OS, the type of batteries used in different phones, etc.  Even the type of software on a mobile or screen device, and its UX/UI, has an impact.  Bottom line, there is no clear, hard evidence that using dark mode saves any battery life at all.

Reason 3:  Reducing screen glare.  On this topic, there's a broad consensus that using dark mode does, in fact, reduce screen glare.  This is especially true at night, or when you are in dark surroundings.  When there's little light available in your surrounding, and when in "light" mode, your eyes are working much harder to view the content on the screen, while simultaneously trying to compensate for the surrounding environment.  This causes eye strain which can lead to fatigue, headaches, and for some, even migraines.  If your business is in some type of manufacturing, or armed security where staff is working at night, in dark rooms, etc., then consideration for dark mode may be warranted.

The verdict regarding dark mode, and whether it provides a benefit, can be far more complex than the question.  When considering iPhone app development for your Bakersfield company, there's no clear evidence, one way or the other, that dark mode is better on your eyes than light mode, and the same is true on whether you save battery life.  So, it becomes a business choice, and whether the costs justify the time and expense to add it.  If you and your company benefit from using dark mode, and you believe it produces a health benefit to staff, then you are a beneficiary of the tech.  If you are like me and my staff, and notice absolutely no change whatsoever, even after several hours of screen time, then it is not worth it.

Purdue Study Link:  https://www.purdue.edu/newsroom/releases/2021/Q3/dark-mode-may-not-save-your-phones-battery-life-as-much-as-you-think,-but-there-are-a-few-silver-linings.html#:~:text=At%2030%25%2D50%25%20brightness,the%20slightly%20longer%20battery%20life.

Wexner Medical Link:  https://wexnermedical.osu.edu/blog/blue-light-and-vision

If your company is considering a mobile app project for your Bakersfield business, give us a call at 623-845-2747 or send me an email to jtomblin@sofvue.com.  

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