Did the dark theme kill Windows Phone?


I came accross this article –Smartphone users “go gray” to curb addiction which states

One such trick is “going gray,” or switching the screen to grayscale, a.k.a. black and white. This is a growing trend, according to Nellie Bowles in the New York Times. The whole idea is to make the screen far less attractive and appealing, thereby reducing the amount of time one is inclined to spend on it.

and I thought of how black and white the Windows Phone UI was. The live tiles had some colour, but thee rest of the UI was rarely anything other than black and white (mostly black). I can”t help but wonder now if that made it less attractive and appealing.

Comments (27)

27 responses to “Did the dark theme kill Windows Phone?”

  1. Tony Barrett

    Not that I was ever a WM user, but the live tiles did nothing for me (they were just a gimmick) - the rest of the UI was just horrible though. I particularly hated the black/white thing that was going on. Screens looked desolate, lost and boring. Everything, everywhere was just black/white. MS made quite a mess of the UI, and that was just the basics.

    • rameshthanikodi

      In reply to ghostrider:

      you have to compare it to the competition at it's time. Android had no actual design language, and iOS went full retard with skeuomorphism. Windows Phone was a breath of fresh air, and despite the criticisms, it won design awards, and as a design system, many parts of it were fundamentally sound. Basic things that we take for granted in other places like the use of simpler monochrome icons are present everywhere now. It actually got Google and Apple to step up their mobile design game.

  2. johnh3

    I think Microsoft made a good progress especially at the time for Windows Phone 8,1. In several markets they reached about 10% with that platform so they was on their way to surpass iOS. Not in the US market but in a global perspective.

    I think ultimate Microsoft themselves killed the mobile platform with Windows 10 Mobile, it was a buggy beta product that should have not been launched. Even hardcore Windows phone fans basicly lost the trust for Microsoft then. I guess we never know why Nadella allowed that to happend. But that a subject to future historians I suppose.

  3. wunderbar

    This might be the silliest thing I've read in a while.

  4. wright_is


    I always use a dark theme - always have. Since the early 80s. I've had either black or dark grey as the background colour on the desktop since the early days. I've tried using photos and images every now and then, but they are too distracting, especially with the silly transparency effects on modern operating systems.

    I want to get want to get things done, therefore I make the things that don't matter dark and "unnoticeable" until I need them. Has that made me use it less? Around 10 hours a day sitting in front of a PC, so no.

    Graphics artists and other creatives have long used dark themes in their applications (I think Photoshop was one of the earliest to go back to using greyscale on its UI to not distract the user from the colours of their images).

    It might stop people staring at the UI, because "oooh, pretty colours!" But it won't stop them using the device or make the device boring. It will make the content less boring.

  5. arunphilip

    A bit tenuous. The UI of WP is something that won acclaim, and to users also it was very practical.

    The only thing I missed in the black-and-white screen of the WP UI was an AMOLED screen - it would have made the blacks look richer, and improved battery life by a smidgen (or more).

    • wright_is

      In reply to arunphilip:

      My last 3 Windows Phone devices had OLED displays with realy richt black displays - in fact they had the time and other information displayed on the lock screen even when the device was in "stand-by", because it only lit the used pixels and didn't take much battery life.

      Something Android followed 5 years later.

      • arunphilip

        In reply to wright_is:

        Nokia/Microsoft's decisions of which phones got an OLD and which an IPS screen was a bit hodge-podged. The two Lumias I had were both IPS (720, 830) and there were either higher-end or lower-end phones with OLED at the same time.

        That said, I was very happy that the Glance Screen (IIRC that was its name) was rolled out to even those phones with an IPS screen (despite the higher battery life hit compared to OLED). And I - for one - used it extensively as it really cut down on the need to unlock the phone.

        Fond memories. Now although my Samsung supports the Always On Display, I don't use it since I have a smartwatch to play that role for me.

        Edit: Which were your Lumias?

  6. Bats

    What killed Windows Phone was Windows Phone and Microsoft. It was a phone that had littel to zero technologies that appealed to people. Quite honestly, the people who I asked why they bought a Windows Phone , was because they were sold on it by people the Wireless Carrier salesperson or the Microsoft salesperson. Why they stopped using it,....was because of the Windows Phone UI. You know what? They even said that UI was even intuitive at all. Some even said that the Windows Phone homescreen was even UGLY. That person who said that, ... I saw his Galaxy S6 phone. Do you know what he has on his homescreen? Picture of his family! He even has his apps lined up vertically along the outer edge as so the view of his family won't be covered. You can't even DREAM of doing that on a Windows Phone. So...again, did a "theme" kill Windows Phone? Again...NO.

    • skane2600

      In reply to Bats:

      Be careful with generalizations. We own 4 Windows Phones and no salesperson was involved (other than ringing-up the purchases). I find Microsoft's approach of accessing apps via an alphabetical list (which is just a swipe away) much better than having to scroll through screen after screen of unorganized app placement. One can also pin an app to the start screen if desired.

      I don't find the inability to put a photo on the start screen a major issue, but it's a matter of personal preference I guess.

      • wright_is

        In reply to skane2600:

        Same here Skane. We all had Windows Phone devices, the kids and my wife loved the interface, found it better than Android and iPhone (I actually gave my wife an old iPhone, an Android device and a Windows Phone device for a week each, when she got her first smartphone, and she chose Windows Phone). They have all reluctantly switched to Android, although they all seem to be fine using Android now, because it has the apps they want / need.

        What killed Windows Phone was lack of proper advertising and lack of (good) apps. I used WP for a long time, but the two apps I used most, WhatsApp and Fitbit both didn't work properly on WP - Fitbit needed to be re-installed 3 to 4 times a day, because it would lose contact with the Fitbit device (it said reboot phone, because Windows couldn't see the device (even though it was still shown a connected in Bluetooth settings), but it was quicker to de-install and re-install the app). WhatsApp would go for days before suddenly realising I had missed a few hundred messages and then I would get a beep fest over the next hour as it announced all the messages from the previous few days!

    • illuminated

      In reply to Bats:

      No windows phone was killed by shit marketing, slimy "strategic partners", uninterested carriers that had too much leverage, slow updates, several radical API changes and initial non-free OS. But then look what happened to Blackberry, Symbian, Firefox OS and Palm Pre. Even Amazon tried to make their phone and it failed. Apparently two OSes is the max.

      • skane2600

        In reply to illuminated:

        MS may have been able to get to market sooner if they just had "finger-touch-ized" their pre-iPhone smartphone interface rather than trying to start down the road of "One Windows"

        Developers always want to wipe the slate clean and create their own system rather than adapting the old one (IMO, that's why we have so many new web frameworks).

        But it's quite possible that MS was too late even if they had started sooner.

        • wunderbar

          In reply to skane2600:

          Um, they tried that. It was called Windows mobile 6.5. It had a touch friendly homescreen and tried to make touch targets bigger.

          It didn't work, at all.

          • skane2600

            In reply to wunderbar:

            I haven't used it but looking at some screen shots, it still uses scroll bars which are very much stylus-oriented. So I don't think it's really the embodiment of the scenario I described.

  7. skane2600

    The correct answer is "No".

  8. rameshthanikodi

    I really, really miss the UX of Windows Phone. I'm happy with my Android but the the UX never feels coherent, and i've never gotten the same level of clarity on Android like I used to on Windows Phone. My notification shade is designed by one vendor, my launcher is another vendor, my photos app is another vendor, and apps just seem to do their own thing these days. Google didn't even have a framework to enforce icon consistency in the OS until Oreo. And guess what? OEMs still get to override adaptive icons. Ugh.

    My phone just got updated to Oreo and....it feels like Google has abandoned Material Design. Except for on Pixel phones, which uses an exclusive "google" design anyway. They seem to be happy trusting OEMs and the market to define the Android experience. It just doesn't work.

    It's amusing but you see "dark mode" shipping in different places now - OnePlus's OxygenOS has an os-wide switch, and the Twitter app has its own dark mode. People do actually want a dark mode, but Microsoft's implementation is perhaps too dark, and because black is perceived as emptiness, some people see it a lazy design. Once again, Microsoft had the idea right idea, just fell short on the execution.

    • Bill Russell

      In reply to FalseAgent:

      That's an issue for OEMs, as the Google own phones are very coherent, based fully on material design. You just say you have an "android". In windows phone no OEM could customize it. You might think that's good but also one reason windows phone had no chance. We already had the consistent, same boring iPhones. There was simply no place for windows phone with two strong ecosystems like android and iOS covering the bases. I don't feel bad - windows has its decades as basically the "only" ecosystem.

      • rameshthanikodi

        In reply to Bill_Russell:

        I'm really tired of all the OEM blaming. It does nothing to fix the problem. Everyone blames Microsoft for not cracking down on PC OEMs, why should Google by any different? Google should take up more responsibility of the UX of their OS. They're the ones that allow the for the customization.

        Everyone wants stock Android, everyone wants Pixel phones for their software experience. Turns out, Android users also want the same, "boring", consistent iPhone experience you talk about, which is somehow also the reason Windows phone was a failure. I call bullshit.

        Windows phone had the UX right.

  9. jimchamplin

    It wasn't the color or UX that did it. People who used them pretty universally loved them. I keep a couple around as iPods.

    The sheer fact that one would say "as iPods" really speaks to how completely MS lost the consumer devices race.

  10. Paul Thurrott

    I'm pretty sure it was Android and iPhone. :)

    • maethorechannen

      In reply to paul-thurrott:

      But would Windows Phone have failed even if Apple and Android never existed? Would most people have just stuck to their colourful feature phones?

      • Bill Russell

        In reply to maethorechannen:

        there is no way we would only have feature phones of mid 2005 and WinCE PDAs, if Apple didn't come along. They identified a next gen handheld device that became technologically possible at that time, first. LiPO batteries, constantly increasing memory capacity, declining prices, power efficient ARM SoCs, display technology, GPUs, GPS, 3G, 4G technology. Apple was first positioned to assemble together these components which reached a size power and cost threshold to make the modern smartphone possible. That coupled with the US model of carrier subsidized phones was the recipe for huge success of smartphones.

    • jimchamplin

      In reply to paul-thurrott:

      Yeah. The hypothesis seems like straw-grasping when the reality is pretty clear.