OS X Yosemite: How to Trek into Dark Mode [UPDATE]

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OS X Yosemite public beta enables an intriguing feature referred to as Dark Mode. No one is quite sure why it's there, but it's very cool.

From the dawn of Mac time, menus have been black text on a white background. Perhaps, at some point, Jony Ive asked: "Why must that be so?" And so, behold, we have Dark Mode.

Dark Mode consists of:

  1. Turning the menu bar black
  2. Turning the menu background to a dark gray with white text
  3. Darkening the background of the dock.

In my reading, I can't find anyone who knows for sure why this feature exists. I doubt if it's for energy savings because the LCD's LED backlight is always on, and it takes a bit of extra energy to block that light and turn pixels black. Even so, the difference in energy between a black pixel and a white one isn't dramatic. You can read more about that at Scientific American and Techlogg .

Dark Mode affects several areas of the Yosemite display.

My own theory is that the feature isn't to conserve energy but, rather, a feature designed to reduce the amount of light striking our eyes from those areas in very low light conditions — such as an airliner on a night flight with cabin lights dimmed — when turning down the whole screen brightness just doesn't do the trick or isn't visually pleasing. I could be wrong. [UPDATE: I have been told that it's for photographic work.]

Trek Into Dark Mode

Turning Dark Mode is easy. In Yosemite, go to System Preferences > General and check the box for "Use dark menu bar and Dock." The effect takes place immediately.

Sytem Preferences > General

While there's no guarantee that that this feature will survive to the final OS X Yosemite 10.10 release, the prognosis looks good. Previous betas enabled this feature, and only problematically, on the Unix command line. So it's a good bet that the current, more pleasing operation, which now works great, is here to stay.

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It’s mainly for users/professionals who deal with manipulating color in photos and video on a regular basis. It’s the same reason most professional editing apps also use a darker UI.


My gut feeling is that it’s for power users who are use to working in darkroom situations, such as professional photo and video editors, for the same reasons that John mentioned.

Whatever it is, bring it on, I prefer the darker UIs.

hapa papa bubaju

it also looks swank with the mac’s black screen border, and helps focus the interface on the windows (aka “what the user is working on”).


Black background maps are apparently much easier to read, & this was patented (I believe) by a friend of mine, a geologist/cartographer officer in the army.

So, I suspect ease of reading is the reason for this change


Perhaps it’s for low light environments like reading in bed while your partner sleeps.



My first thought was professional use, much of which has been suggested by others above, but notably, astronomy, military and security writ large, pilots and others who need to read in low light conditions without having their dark-adapted vision compromised.

Indeed, most high-performing astronomy apps have this feature built into the app for this purpose.

Looking forward to Trekking Into Darkness, sans genetically enhanced megalomaniacs.


My first thought was it was a more attractive version of the “Invert colours” (yes I’m a Brit) Accessibility feature.


I used to use Linux GUI’s back in the mid 90’s with dark interfaces. They were really nice when working late at night. Just a lot less glare and I like the color richness that seemed more prominent vs traditional grey Buttons, Window frames, and Menu bars.


I’ve always wanted to be able to reduce an LED screen brightness way below what is usually possible. Also, yes, I have tried inverse colors but then even images are inverted. And then there was an attempt to reduce brightness (especially in the blue region) due to the results of research on the effect of light in negating the effects of sleep. I have changed the background color of many of my finder windows to non-blue content colors but of course there is no way to affect browser window backgrounds. I would like to be able to reduce all bright white backgrounds to a lower intensity and maybe change the colors too.

Brian S

Not “Dark mode” but OS X 10.9 does have an “invert colors” option on the System Preferences Accessibility panel ( “Display” section ) for those who want a similar option now.


The extra contrast will be most welcome, must give it a try.  A bit off topic perhaps but for those of you suffering with Office 2013 the choices of off-white, brilliant white and diamond white pretty much suck.

Tom Wynne

It was announced in the wwdc keynote with Yosemite, so doubt it will be going away.

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