Why aren’t older iPhones getting Night Mode?

Why aren’t older iPhones getting Night Mode?
Cameras have slowly become the most important part of a modern smartphone, and even a budget smartphone can capture decent photos in broad daylight. But the situation is very different at night, when even a flagship phone might struggle. Most modern high-end phones get a boost in low light thanks to dedicated Night Modes ⁠— a feature that even the iPhone 11 and its Pro siblings now have. With the latest iPhones, the mode automatically turns on if the surroundings are too dark and the flash is off. And while that seems like a software feature that could be added to older iPhones as well, that’s not the case.

The new Wide Camera


According to Apple, what allows Night Mode is the new iPhones’ Wide Camera. That’s the iPhone 11’s main camera and is not to be confused with the new Ultra Wide Camera.

As usual, Apple didn’t talk much about the technical details of the new main camera, but it did say the following:


 
For the record, that’s more or less how any Night Mode on a smartphone today works. None of that sounds like something the iPhone XS or the X wouldn’t be able to do, so...

Why no Night Mode for older iPhones?


In this day and age when the smartphone’s silicon does as much work as the camera when taking a picture, new camera features often become available not just to the latest devices but to older ones as well via updates. Case in point, Google introduced its Night Sight mode along with the Pixel 3 but made it also available to the Pixel 2 and the first-gen Pixel. Even the lower-end Pixel 3a has the mode, even if there are some slight performance differences due to the different hardware. The same goes for Samsung’s Note 10 and S10 series, which also received a low-light camera mode via update. But despite Apple’s older chips still delivering top performance, Apple hasn’t said a word about Night Mode potentially trickling down to previous iPhone generations. How come? Well, we have three theories.

Theory 1: The new camera and the A13 Bionic are really that important


First is the most obvious reason: there’s nothing Apple can do about older iPhones because they just don’t have the hardware required to enable Night Mode – the new Wide Angle camera and the A13 Bionic chip. That’s also Apple’s official reasoning. But is that really the case?

Theory 2: Apple doesn’t want to give its users sub-par Night Mode


It’s entirely possible that if willing, Apple can develop some sort of software-only version of Night Mode that can be sent to previous iPhones with an update. However, if testing showed that this solution is not comparable to its real Night Mode or similar modes offered by the competition, then Apple might have decided that it’s better to not have a horse in that race at all rather than offering a half-decent feature.

Knowing how low-light pictures from older iPhones look, we’d wager that plenty of users would have preferred to have at least some software enhancements in those situations. For now, it seems, they’ll have to settle for darkness unless they’re willing to change their device. Which brings us to... 

Theory 3: Apple is keeping Night Mode on the latest iPhones as an upgrade incentive


We always keep the spiciest theory for last. In the world where this one is true, Apple has decided to intentionally keep Night Mode exclusive to the latest iPhones. Because the improvement is so drastic, some people would be convinced to upgrade even from their 2018 iPhones to get it. This also includes overhyping the new Wide Angle camera to be more important than it is in reality, something that’s right up Apple’s alley. If you’ve seen at least one review of the new iPhones (and if not, you should watch ours) then you know that Night Mode is one of the very few notable differences between the iPhone 11 generation and that of the XS.


Ultimately, it doesn’t matter which theory is true. The fact is that older iPhones aren’t getting Night Mode and that’s just how it’s going to be. In Apple’s world, you can’t contest the status quo, you adjust to it. On the bright side, the new iPhone 11 starts at $699 which makes obtaining the coveted Night Mode a bit easier.

Related phones

iPhone 11
  • Display 6.1" 828 x 1792 pixels
  • Camera 12 MP / 12 MP front
  • Processor Apple A13 Bionic, Hexa-core, 2650 MHz
  • Storage 64 GB
  • Battery 3110 mAh
iPhone 11 Pro
  • Display 5.8" 1125 x 2436 pixels
  • Camera 12 MP / 12 MP front
  • Processor Apple A13 Bionic, Hexa-core, 2650 MHz
  • Storage 64 GB
  • Battery 3046 mAh

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40 Comments

1. jjface

Posts: 249; Member since: Jun 07, 2017

tl:dr $$$

13. Well-Manicured-Man

Posts: 703; Member since: Jun 16, 2015

There is a 4th theory: The software is so specialized on the hardware, that you would need to basically redevelop the software to make Night Mode possible on older iPhones. But nomatter how you put it, in the end it is always about the commercials because has the money to redevelop the software and Apple could have introduced an image sensor capable of night for the older models and so on.

20. sgodsell

Posts: 7433; Member since: Mar 16, 2013

Google made night sight a standalone feature in the Google Camera app. The thing is any night camera shots taken and processed to enhance and brighten a single image, takes a lot of processing, and multiple images to find brighter and clear objects within the same set of images. I guess Google knew that each Pixel could do the same processing, so they made it work on the older hardware. Others have used the Google camera app on other Android smartphones, and it has provided a working night sight for their hardware as well. At the end of the day Google published a white paper on how it works. I am sure Apple took a look at it, and now uses the same or slightly modified version of Google's night sight.

29. DBozz

Posts: 58; Member since: Sep 19, 2019

Exactly... they did it even with pixel 3a with mid range processor.

35. pakdhw

Posts: 1; Member since: Oct 03, 2019

All about money, as simple as that.. Apple is Hardware Company. Google is Software, Service Company that why we can enjoy Night Sight on Older Device. But Apple disabled Night Mode on Old Device to make old user buy new iPhone. We already know that A12 so powerful.. many latest Android Device can't do same or better performance with A12. So enable on A12 device really possible.

2. whatev

Posts: 2321; Member since: Oct 28, 2015

Theory 3 is the right one, older iPhones are more than capable of delivering great night mode pics but they need to give an incentive to upgrade, anyways I can live without it, I’m not really an obsessive camera guy

9. TheOracle1

Posts: 2331; Member since: May 04, 2015

Why not just port night mode to the older iPhones? Oh wait, it's IOS so you're forced to PAY for an entirely new phone. BOHICA (Bend Over Here It Comes Again). Lol

12. whatev

Posts: 2321; Member since: Oct 28, 2015

You are forced to pay for a new “smartphone” 3 months after you buy your beloved android phone because it’s obsolete at release. Lol

30. TheOracle1

Posts: 2331; Member since: May 04, 2015

Funny you say that because my present one year old smartphone is the longest I've ever kept a phone and I'm not really interested in changing it because it's excellent. Oh and I ported Gcam to it when I bought it. It's almost impossible for Android software to go obsolete because of custom roms. Your ignorance is pitiful.

27. ScottsoNJ56

Posts: 125; Member since: Oct 01, 2017

BOHICA is what android users say when they try and sell their phones lol

31. TheOracle1

Posts: 2331; Member since: May 04, 2015

Nope. We buy them 4 months after release when the big depreciation hit is over. No need to camp outside the store for three days with a jar of lube for the BOHICA Apple loves to dish out.

40. whatev

Posts: 2321; Member since: Oct 28, 2015

Don’t cry so loud baby, people is looking at you, take this tissue to dry those tears

34. whatev

Posts: 2321; Member since: Oct 28, 2015

So accurate ScottsoNJ56

10. vincelongman

Posts: 5723; Member since: Feb 10, 2013

Yea, it can't be due to processing power The SD 820 from Q1 2016 can do Night Sight So surely the A12 from Q3 2018 could do Night mode

15. whatev

Posts: 2321; Member since: Oct 28, 2015

Yes and considering that even the A9 is more powerful than the SD820 there’s no reason for this, I agree Apple is greedy with this, but I don’t care much about this night mode to be honest

3. slim3bdo

Posts: 186; Member since: Jun 05, 2017

Lol The reason is simple : push the herd to buy the new models . This shinanigan about 5 years update is BS , I remember from iPhone 3gs not having all features ( the new ones ) from iPhone 4 , same happened when 4s came and that's when I stopped buying iPhones . Updates that broke your phone , slow it down and doesn't have all features are not update . Certainly 5 years update is just a myth created by apple and it's minions tech sites .

4. whatev

Posts: 2321; Member since: Oct 28, 2015

Btw, off topic, Gary Explains from android authority has demonstrated that the A13 on the iPhone 11 Pro is the most powerful and fastest chip in a smartphone https://youtu.be/ZbSMIk23qqI Anyways, I’m happy with the second best chip, the A12 on the XS which is still years ahead of the competition :)

6. yalokiy

Posts: 1047; Member since: Aug 01, 2016

It's good, as long as it makes you happy.

8. whatev

Posts: 2321; Member since: Oct 28, 2015

Not only me, but millions of users who are enjoying the best phones with the most powerful and fastest chips :)

37. iushnt

Posts: 3122; Member since: Feb 06, 2013

It’s good as long as it make millions happy!! The remaining millions are happy with the alternative offerings from other brands.

11. vincelongman

Posts: 5723; Member since: Feb 10, 2013

His GPU test is far too short for measuing gaming performance I'll wait for sustained performance and also SPEC testing from AnandTech That being said, the A13 should beat the 855 The 855 is almost 1 year old, the 865 is only a few months away

16. whatev

Posts: 2321; Member since: Oct 28, 2015

Yet the A12 will still be more powerful and faster for sure

24. maestrotelefono

Posts: 6; Member since: Sep 30, 2019

That's why you are not receiving the Night mode update :-)

33. whatev

Posts: 2321; Member since: Oct 28, 2015

And I don’t care about it, I can use apps for that so I don’t care, just like you don’t care being stuck in android lollipop :-)

5. Cat97

Posts: 1923; Member since: Mar 02, 2017

Google Pixel had night mode algorithms since 3 Qualcomm processor generations ago. All you need for it is a decent camera lens and computing power, the rest are lies.

7. yalokiy

Posts: 1047; Member since: Aug 01, 2016

One more reason to stay away from iPhones.

14. Shkselectah

Posts: 47; Member since: Jun 26, 2018

because carry your money that's why

17. LAgurl

Posts: 113; Member since: Dec 05, 2018

I could care less about that the only time I used it was when I was getting fd In alley at night to take pics since I didn't wanna turn on the flash , other than that I could care less about it .

18. Omega unregistered

Meanwhile some Android phones can enjoy Google Night Sight even though the specs are lower than Google Pixel phones.

19. midan

Posts: 2984; Member since: Oct 09, 2017

"Knowing how low-light pictures from older iPhones look, we’d wager that plenty of users would have preferred to have at least some software enhancements in those situations. For now, it seems, they’ll have to settle for darkness unless they’re willing to change their device. Which brings us to... " No they don't have to, there's an app for that.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=41tCjI-L6oA Neural cam will help you.

* Some comments have been hidden, because they don't meet the discussions rules.

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