This post is going to build upon that to see how we can adapt our apps to support dark themes.
User selectable dark themes were added to the Android platform in Android 10, but that does not mean they’re new to app developers. The default theme for Android devices was dark up until Android 5.0 (Lollipop)!
The difference last year was that the platform added a device-wide setting. Meaning that the user has additional control over the theme of the device, but also of apps.
First up, why support a dark theme at all? The Material.io page on Dark Theme has a good summary on some of the technical benefits (emphasis mine):
Dark themes reduce the luminance emitted by device screens […]. They help improve visual ergonomics by reducing eye strain, adjusting brightness to current lighting conditions, and facilitating screen use in dark environments — all while conserving battery power [for OLED displays].
The most important reason though is that your users want it. The Android team added the system-wide dark theme setting because it consistently came up as a top requested feature by users.
Now that I’ve convinced you to support dark themes in your app, let’s look at how you add one…
To add a dark theme to your app, use Material Design Components (MDC) for Android’s support:
#1: Change your theme
You need to change your theme to extend from one of the
#2: Choose what mode to be in (optional)
This step is optional, but allows you to support devices running versions of Android before Android 10. Since most devices before Android 10 do not have a system-level dark theme setting*, apps can provide their own in-app setting to allow users to choose what theme to use per-app.
This is also still useful on Android 10+, as it allows users to override the system setting as they wish. As an example, imagine that the user sets their device theme to be controlled on a time schedule, but they know that they always want their social apps to use a dark theme.
* Not strictly true. Some device manufacturers have added a system-level dark theme to their devices which are running Android 9 (and below). Unfortunately there’s no way to determine this at runtime.
If you would like to read more about how the night mode feature in AppCompat works, have a look at this blog post:
And there we have the basis of a dark theme! It’s time to test it out by checking each part of the app in both light and dark themes. Look out for any dark text on dark backgrounds, and hardcoded colors which do not have enough contrast against the dark backgrounds (typically, greys).
If you are using hard coded color values in your app, I recommend reading this blog post by Nick Butcher, which talks about preferring theme attributes:
We also cover this in our ‘Theming with Style’ talk at Android Dev Summit ‘19:
Now let’s take a look at the design characteristics of dark theme which are described on Material.io.
Grey vs black
The first thing you might notice is that the default background for apps in dark theme is not black, but instead a dark grey:
There’s lots of discussions about why we chose grey vs black, especially since the platform in Android 10 uses a black background. This is largely a trade-off between usability vs power savings.
Using a pure black
#000000 color as the background in the platform, allows the system apps and surfaces to use as little power as possible when they’re open on OLED displays. These system surfaces tend to be quite simple, typically just text and simple icons, so to battle contrast issues we can adjust the text and icon colors to suit.
In apps though, your surfaces can contain anything: complex colorful vector animations, bright imagery, contrasting branded surfaces and lots more. Placing these against a pure black background means that the resulting contrast is much higher, which can increase eye strain. Unlike text and icons we mentioned above, it is often difficult or unwanted to tint/re-color these types of content to reduce the contrast, meaning that a lighter background is the solution.
Next up, let’s look at your app’s color palette. It’s likely that your app’s color palette has been chosen based on the assumption of a light/white background, so we likely need to make some tweaks to the color palette when the app is running in a dark theme.
Recap on Material color system
We’re going to be talking about color tones a lot below, so here’s a quick recap on the Material color system. It defines colors as a series of tones within each color. The tones are numbered from 50 (lightest, least saturated tone), to 900 (darkest, most saturated tone). Here’s the baseline teal and indigo color tones: