On the iPhone’s colorful menu bars in iOS 6 (Update)

It’s been pointed out to me that what I’m describing here is the status bar, not the menu bar. Apologies. -Dave

When Apple introduced iOS 6 at WWDC in June, it revealed Siri’s new tricks, Facebook integration and the now infamous Maps app. Those who were paying attention noticed a more subtle change: the iPhone’s menu bar could change color.

Months later, that change is a part of the public release of iOS 6 and I’m not used to it. While jarring at first, I now find the change confusing. Sometimes it’s black or grey and sometimes it’s blue [1. Apparently there’s a yellow version, too. Thanks to Chris Rawson for sharing that. I think. Also, reader Vasanth Subramanian notes that The Economist app turns it red.]. At best, the change is unnecessary cosmetic fiddling. At worst, it alters a fundamental function. Here are my thoughts on the iPhone menu bar in iOS 6.

The Meaning of a Menu Bar Color Change

Before iOS 6 was released, the iPhone menu bar was either (outside of alerts):

  1. Black
  2. Grey
  3. Translucent (lock screen)
  4. Hidden (games, etc.)

It assumed a color other than black or grey only to convey information. Most of those “alert colors” from earlier versions of the iOS are intact in iOS 6. Here they are:

Red: active recording in Voice Memos
Green: active phone call
Green again: Active FaceTime call. Note both “calls” are green.
Light green: Active Maps navigation.
Blue: Active hotspot connection.

[1. Thanks to Jordan Golson for the hotspot screenshot.]

There’s on odd change in iOS 6 regarding menu bar alerts. In iOS 5, the menu bar would turn blue if you navigated away from an app pushing video or audio out via AirPlay mirroring. In iOS 6, the menu bar remains black but gains a small, triangular play icon (Kurt Madsen notes that it turns blue briefly, then goes back to black, but I didn’t catch that).

Dark blue: Active AirPlay mirroring

Apple has trained us since 2007 that a non-black or grey menu bar means something. There’s a call waiting, an ongoing recording or an active hotspot connection. Now, in the case of Apple’s Mail, Calendar, Messages, Phone and Contacts, it’s blue just to be blue. Worse, it’s confusing, and I spent the first few days erroneously thinking I had an active call or something in the background that I wasn’t aware of.

It gets even more confusing when you consider the inconsistency across Apple’s own apps.


Last summer, Rene Ritchie asked an interesting question at iMore: “Should the status bar be part of the app interface, or should it disappear into the casing?” He concludes, “I’d prefer to see Apple go pure black across the board in iOS (and let developers overwrite it if they choose to). Even on a white iPhone, a consistent status bar becomes part of the device, there when I need it, gone when I don’t.”

Indeed, a consistent menu bar recedes into the background as users habituate to it. Conversely, Apple’s inconstancy makes the appearance of the light blue color even more jarring. Several Apple apps turn the menu bar blue:

  • Mail
  • Calendar
  • Messages
  • Phone
  • Contacts

Others keep it black:

  • Safari
  • iTunes
  • App Store
  • Calculator
  • Voice Memos
  • Find My Friends
  • Find My iPhone
  • iBooks
  • Cards

Finally, Photos turns it grey.

A blue menu bar doesn’t improve my experience in these instances, nor does it convey important information. It feels like fiddling for the sake of fiddling. Blue for the sake of blue. That doesn’t seem like a very “Apple” move.

Update: Reader Jonathan Poh points out this post, which explains how the menu bar’s color is determined:

 “Rather than going on the tintColor, It uses the average color from the bottom pixel row of the header bar.”


  1. Sorry to be a pedantic developer, but the section of the screen you’re discussing is actually called the ‘status bar’, not ‘menu bar’! :)

  2. My assumption is that they’re trying, at least in part, to mimic the translucent OS X desktop menu bar which became the standard in 10.5 Leopard, bringing the two OS variations a bit closer together.

  3. I like the idea of keeping the status bar consistently black until it needs to change color to convey information.

    What do you guys think in regards to the white iPhone though? Would it be better to have a consistently white (with black text) status bar, making it seem like an extension of the white body above the display? Or should it remain black across all devices?

  4. I’m not yet sure whether I like the change or not, but:
    colored status bars make the screen appear larger than the (semi-) default black bar did. I secretly hope Apple changed it for that reason, and not simple because it’d look *new*.

  5. This doesn’t bother me – as noted, it harmonizes the status bar with the menu bar in apps. Even our house app (for controlling an astronomical observatory) seamlessly does this. My Walgreens app does it red.

    I have to disagree (and I can see that folks will disagree on this point), but the matching color _brings the status bar closer to the foreground_ and has, to me, a positive effect of putting it ‘with’ the app’s menu bar. I never paid any attention to the status bar, would forget to use it for things (like going to the top of a list), etc. Now it’s integrated with the app visually. It’s an improvement for me.

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