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WhatsApp’s new dark mode for iOS and Android makes late-night chats easy on the eyes

WhatsApp is launching one of the most user-requested features: Dark mode. Announced on March 3, the dark mode is more in shades of gray than black, and is based on the company’s internal research on how best to reduce eye fatigue when messaging in the dark.

WhatsApp, owned by Facebook, says that dark mode was the No. 1 user-requested feature for the messaging app. Rather than automatically default to the pure black background and white text, the team researched colors that minimize eye strain. The colors are also designed to be close to the default colors on iPhone and Android, which is why the Android version is slightly more blue than the iPhone’s gray. The result is a background that’s not quite black and text that’s not quite white.

The design, the company says, is also made to make the most important information stand out, while less important elements on the screen don’t command as much attention. WhatsApp says the mode is made to help reduce eye strain, as well as preventing “those awkward moments when your phone lights up the room.”

Dark mode for WhatsApp can be enabled in the device settings on smartphones with iOS 13 and Android 10. Older Android phones can activate dark mode inside WhatsApp itself by heading to Settings > Chats > Themes and selecting the ‘dark’ option.

Thanks to OS updates that enable device-wide dark mode settings, many apps are launching updates to add the dark theme. Besides saving on eye strain when staring at a screen in the dark, dark mode typically helps conserve battery life, since black and gray pixels use less energy than white. 

The gray background WhatsApp chose isn’t quite as energy-efficient as black, but at a difference that’s arguably negligible on battery life. The black-gray debate remains as a personal preference, however. Even Twitter has recently launched a true dark mode, keeping its longstanding dark blue background as another option in the settings.

Parent company Facebook is also testing dark mode for Facebook’s mobile app. Instagram added a dark mode last year.

WhatsApp says the dark mode will be rolling out over the next few days. Once the app is updated, users need to turn on dark mode in the device settings to activate the feature (only devices using systems older than Android 10 can turn the feature on in the WhatsApp settings).

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