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Black Is Beautiful

Black Is Beautiful

March 24, 2015

Craig Hockenberry,

From Apple’s point-of-view, one of the most important things about OLED is how it consumes power. A transistor on the display only uses energy when it’s producing light. Compare this with an LCD backlight which must be lit in order to see any pixel. …

One of my first impressions of the [Apple Watch] user interface was that it used a lot of black. This makes the face of the device feel more expansive because you can’t see the edges. But more importantly, those black pixels are saving power and extending the life of the display. It’s rare that engineering and design goals can align so perfectly.

It’s a rarity indeed, but it’s even rarer than that, because there’s another element of confluence to consider here. In addition to Apple’s engineering and design goals, the design constraints of Apple Watch really push this special trifecta over the edge of happy accident.

As Hockenberry points out, using black wallpapers and dark UIs to increase battery life is no new trick to mobile computing. The earliest such mainstream experiment I personally remember came in the form of a custom Google search page called Blackle, and even though that product was built during the era of old-school LCDs (which, ironically, was perhaps counterproductive, since the “white” pixels on those panels are actually transparent and thus require less energy to display), the concept is the same.

But the strategy just doesn’t seem to work for devices with larger-sized screens. Certainly, the power-saving aspect works (to some degree or other, depending on about a thousand different factors), but that’s not what I mean. Instead, I’m talking about the aesthetics of it all. To my eyes, light text on a black background (or any variation on that theme) is a harsher and more straining experience than the traditional black on white. If you hop into iBooks and turn on night mode, you might see what I mean. Or better yet, go into your iDevice’s accessibility settings an invert the colors of the display. Dark can be stark, and it might drive you raving mad.

But on a smaller display with so much less to convey, the dark-colored, energy-saving, border-blending, reflection-enhancing (a.k.a. luxury-highlighting) design language makes a lot of sense. And even when Apple finally works the bezel entirely off Apple Watch and ramps up the thing’s battery cap to well past the point of frugal concern, I still think the midnight base will belong to us.

Once you go black, you never return to the bright-white, inferior experience of Android Wear.