Night Mode

This is one of those seemingly simple things that I wanted to do for one of our client sites that turned into a slight obsession because it seems like an obvious and increasingly necessary feature.

I’d like to see night-mode as an option for online mapping. I know that customized embedded maps are possible by overlaying tiles as described in the APIs of Google/Mapquest/Yahoo and the recent ALA Article. I actually like the fact that this is a little complicated to implement because the average user shouldn’t have the power to tweak standard base map colors – think MySpace profiles <shudder />. However, if you own a vehicle GPS, it probably has a day and a night mode. In night-mode, the color of the map tiles are inverted to decrease the brightness of the screen for nighttime driving. Why is this a necessary feature for online maps?

  1. To embed on websites with dark backgrounds. – Embeddable interactive maps are a huge asset to website developers and Google has made these very easy to implement. If you embed these maps on a sites with dark backgrounds though, you’ll create quite a visual magnet due to the sharp contrast of the light colored maps. While an inverted map may not mesh exactly with a website’s color scheme, the reduced contrast would make an embedded map much easier on the eyes.
  2. For nighttime users of the mobile web. – While I don’t have an iphone yet, I would love to have one simply for access to Google Maps. Imagine if Google Maps on the iPhone (or even the entire interface) could automatically switch into night-mode at dusk like a vehicle navigation system.

Seems obvious and increasingly necessary to me. To demo what this might look like, I’ve set up a simple HTML mockup – with a dark background of course. What do you think?

7 comments on “Night Mode

Right on, bro. Right on.

Maria says:

While embedding the inverted map on a site with a dark background would help in the overall shock factor to your eyes, I do think it shouldn’t be without the option to switch to “normal” mode. It’s probably truer for those “older” eyes, but reading light on dark onscreen isn’t as easy, and may cause a bit of strain when trying to decipher street numbers, etc. The black on yellow of the normal map is much higher contrast than the white on blue.

I like the concept though and think it would prove as a useful option to give.

I’m gonna have to look at your mockup again tonight though – in the dark! 🙂

I wasn’t sure where you were going with this, but once I saw the image you had reverted the colors on it became evident.

Reading light on dark screen do sound alot better than getting blinded by the bright display at nighttime.

Some of the colors came out weird though.. water is brown and parks are purple. Maybe just darkening the original colors for those areas would be a good option.

I don’t have an iPhone either.. can it really detect if you’re in a dark or light environment, you know?

Brian says:

Does it matter if the device detects a dark or light environment? No. Most devices have a time sync. All you need to know is when the sun is setting and rising. No need for a fancy light sensor.

However, a light sensor would denfinately add to the coolness factor.


I’d be nice if Google had some sort of switch you can trigger for either map. I aggree that this sort of feature could become quite useful.

Sunrise/senset times can easily be determined by your location. I believe that’s how night-mode works on most portable GPS units. For the iPhone though, an ambient light sensor would make a lot more sense as you wouldn’t necessarily be using it in the car.

I agree that the inverted colors aren’t all that pretty. I was just trying to come up with a solution that could be implemented easily without having to manually change all the map tiles. Creating a custom night-mode color scheme that didn’t involve brown water would probably be ideal. 🙂

Detection of light/dark environment only because you could be in a dark room during daylight time and in a very bright room during night time. I don’t have an iPod though so it was more of an open question/pondering.

So who do we know at Google that work on maps? 😀

iPhone has the auto-brightness option, just like macbook keyboards, so basically, it should lower it at nights.

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