Apple’s upcoming macOS Mojave includes a new dark mode. Despite being a new feature in a beta operating system, Apple’s dark mode is already much nicer than Windows 10’s dark mode.
Microsoft had years to improve Windows 10’s dark theme, but macOS just leapfrogged it in a single beta release.
Apple Chose Better-Looking Dark Grays Instead of Jarring Pure Blacks
Windows 10’s dark app theme, which you can enable from Settings > Personalization > Colors > Choose your default app mode, uses a lot of pure black colors, also known as #000000 in hex color codes.
macOS Mojave’s new dark theme, which can be enabled from Settings > General > Appearance, uses more gray colors. Even the darkest shades of black on macOS Mojave aren’t the jarring #000000 color used in Windows.
The end result is a dark theme that’s easier on the eyes. It just looks better, too.
The developers of many of Windows 10’s included applications seem to agree with us. For example, the Microsoft Store application uses dark grays instead of pure blacks in dark mode.
Instead of a standard system color scheme, the developers of Windows 10’s included apps all choose which custom dark colors they prefer.
Mojave’s Dark Theme Affects More Applications (and Looks Better Doing It)
Windows 10’s dark theme feels very incomplete because so few applications respect it. Even after enabling the dark app theme, many applications don’t even attempt to look darker.
File Explorer is a big example. Microsoft is finally working on a dark theme for File Explorer that will debut in the next update to Windows 10, codenamed Redstone 5. The above screenshot shows the incomplete dark File Explorer theme on the current development version of Windows 10.
It took Microsoft several years after debuting the Windows dark theme to get around to updating File Explorer.
By comparison, the first beta release of macOS Mojave has a dark theme in the Finder file manager, right now. And it already looks better than the File Explorer’s new dark theme, too.
Knocking File Explorer is an easy cheap shot, though. The big problem is how few third party applications use dark modes—almost none, in fact. Paint.NET valiantly attempts to use a dark theme if you’ve enabled dark app mode in Windows, but it still has a bunch of ugly white and light gray controls that don’t fit in properly.
At least it’s something—but it doesn’t look great.
The current version of macOS Mojave just came out, so not all third-party applications support a dark theme yet. But all the applications included with macOS, at least, appear to support the theme.
On Windows 10, all the included traditional Windows desktop applications completely ignore your dark theme setting. Only new “universal” apps from the Store even attempt to respect it.
Even though some applications don’t support the dark theme on macOS, we expect developers to quickly update their apps to take advantage of this feature. Mac application developers are more likely to support new features than Windows application developers are.
macOS Can Automatically Enable a Dark Theme at Night
Update: Apple’s preview information led us to believe this was true, but it isn’t. You can still automatically enable Mojave’s Dark Mode at night with the Night Owl app.
Windows forces you to enable dark app mode whenever you want to use it. While you can manually enable the dark theme on macOS Mojave, the new “Dynamic Desktop” feature at Settings > Desktop & Screen Saver can automatically apply the dark theme at night and the standard light theme during the day. The default desert desktop background even shifts between day and night photos.
So, if you just want to use dark mode at night, macOS can change it for you automatically—but you’re forced to change it manually on Windows. macOS has a “Night Shift” mode that automatically makes colors warmer on your screen at night and Windows 10 has a similar “Night Light” feature, but only the Mac can automatically change your theme, too.
Microsoft Edge Ignores Your System Preference, But Safari Doesn’t
Even when Microsoft creates a dark theme for its own applications, it doesn’t always enable them by default. Microsoft Edge is a big offender here. Even when you enable dark app mode, Edge will keep using its default light app mode.
Edge does have a dark app mode, however. To enable it, you have to click menu > Settings > Choose a theme > Dark. Edge calls this a “theme” and not an “app mode,” despite the fact that Windows themes are something else entirely.
So, if you want to toggle back and forth between dark and light app modes in Windows, you have to do it in two places each time. That’s a big difference from macOS, which can automatically switch for you.
Of course, the Safari browser on macOS Mojave automatically switches to a dark theme and respects your system preference. Safari even gives you a dark New Tab page theme, while Edge does not.
Microsoft has a lot to learn from Apple. Windows 10 should use a lighter gray color instead of pure black, Edge should respect the system preference, and Windows should provide a way to automatically enable and disable dark mode at night. Those are the easy parts. Unfortunately, making more Windows desktop themes use dark mode will be much more work.