Stop wasting time closing all apps in the multitasking bar – it’s a myth

Many people on the web, including some “Geniuses” working in Apple stores, claim that you should regularly clear out all the apps from the multitasking bar in order to speed app your iPad and to preserve battery. I will tell you a secret: it’s a myth – so save yourself the time and don’t do it. There are a few exceptions in that sometimes it makes sense to close a few certain apps – this post tells you what these are.

Copernicus wasn't a great fan of superstitious beliefs - what would he have said to the "clear-the-multitasking-bar" myth?

Copernicus wasn’t a great fan of superstitious beliefs – what would he have said to the “clear-the-multitasking-bar” myth?

Manually closing all apps in the multitasking bar won’t increase the performance of your iPad or iPhone. It is a superstitious belief, like lets say, that the sun revolves around the earth. And like every good myth, believing in it makes total sense. Isn’t it obvious that the sun revolves around the Earth? We are standing here still, but the sun rises in the East and sets in the West! And isn’t it obvious that apps that are running in the multitasking bar take up resources? Its called a multitasking bar, after all, they must be doing something!

But it is a myth, and if Copernicus was still around, he would squish the regularly-close-apps-from-the-multitasking-bar myth as much as he squished the other one.

Read next: How you can really speed up a slow iPad with seven simple tricks.

At least this time, we can blame marketing. What Apple calls a multitasking bar would be much better described as “a list of recently used apps”. Some of them are running, but most of them are not. And closing an app that is not even running, well, that doesn’t make any sense and just wastes your time.

Rene Ritchie from iMore points out:

You don’t ever – never as in not ever – have to close ALL the apps in your multitasking, fast app switcher dock. It’s a sniper rifle, not a nuke. So just relax and enjoy your apps and let iOS do the heavy lifting for you.


Close down misbehaving apps

So how do you use this sniper rifle? First of all, an app might sometimes act up on you and randomly crash. Safari does this on me sometimes, and unfortunately does the very awesome Settlers of Catan. In such a case, you can kill that particular app by entering the multi-task bar with a double click on the home button, tap-and-hold on the misbehaving app until all apps wiggle, and then tap the little close icon in the upper left corner.

clear multitasking bar myth


How does multitasking work in iOS?

Besides force-closing a crashing app, there is little need to kill apps in the multitasking bar. Let me indulge you with a little bit of techtalk:

When you return to the home screen or open another app, the previous app moves from “active” to “background”. Backgrounded apps can still perform tasks, but most apps are only allowed to be executed in the “background” for 5 seconds.

Once this time is up, they are moved into a “suspended” state in which they no longer use CPU time or drain power. An app may request an additional 10 minutes of “background” running time to complete a big task (e.g., downloading RSS feeds) before becoming “suspended”.

Suspended apps do not claim CPU or battery resources. They take up some working memory (RAM), but if this is getting scarce, iOS will automatically move “suspended” apps into a “not running” state and reclaim their memory.


Closing certain apps can make sense – but never all of them

Only a few apps are allowed to run in the “background” indefinitely (or until they complete their task) – these are the ones you have to take care of with your “sniper rifle”. You can get the full story in this excellent post by Freiser Speirs, but here is the most important part:

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All apps get 5 seconds of Background running. Some apps can request a 10-minute extension. There are a small number of apps that genuinely need to run indefinitely in the background and iOS allows this.

There are exactly five kinds of apps allowed to run indefinitely in the Background state in iOS 5:

  • Apps that play audio while in the Background state. A good example is Instacast while it’s playing a podcast.
  • Apps that track your location in the Background. For example, you still want voice prompts from your TomTom navigation app, even if another app is Active.
  • Apps that listen for incoming VOIP calls. If you use Skype on iOS, you can receive incoming Skype calls while the app is in the Background.
  • Newsstand apps that are downloading new content.
  • Apps that receive continuous updates from an external accessory in the Background.


What does this all mean?

What does this mean for you? Besides force-quitting crashing apps, you can also micro-manage apps that you know are allowed to indefinitely run in the background or to request a 10-minute extension. Those are primarily GPS apps or voice over iPad apps such as skype. Other apps like RSS readers and Newsstand are also allowed to remain running in the background until they have finished downloading all feeds / issues (for a maximum of ten minutes).

Thus, if you don’t think you will come back to them soon, kill these apps. If you are not waiting for a co-author to reach you on Skype, terminate it (not your colleague!). If you can play your iTunes or Rdio music from a different device, that’s what you want to do of you are short on memory or battery power.


Pro Tip: Shut down Mail

Some built-in apps such as Mail will run indefinitely in the background, because their task is never complete. Most people set up their email accounts to check every five minutes or so, which means that Mail will communicate with a server in short intervals, indefinitely. In other words, Mail will never transition into the “suspended” state.

Therefore, always close down Mail. Not only will you reclaim some scarce RAM resources, but it will also help you to better focus on the task at hand.


This myth is busted: Spend your time on more useful things

In short, don’t waste your time and effort on reguglarly closing un-used apps on your iPad and iPhone. iOS takes care of that by itself, and most apps in that list aren’t really running.

Focus on the rare occasions in which an app is acting strange, and close down Mail, Skype and active GPS and music services if you want to preserve battery life and free up RAM for other apps.


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Read next: How you can speed up a slow iPad with seven simple tricks. And I give you a hint: it’s not about closing down apps in the multitasking bar 😉


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  1. julian says:

    Nice piece! and blog! Although I have to disagree about switching off apps. It is a myth to an extent. If you are a content creator on an iPad, there are moments where even simple copy and paste will not work because there are not enough resources available. I have instances were students are exporting their eBook creations to iBooks. If the files are big, (eg. 400MB books with video content) they won’t export, if there’s a multitude of apps open or apps having been open. Quitting apps from the open/recently used always seems to cure this. This happens a lot, so I’m pretty sure I’m right about it!

    • Jo says:

      You are right that sometimes it has an effect. For the apps that are allowed to run in the background it can have an effect. Examples are Mail and any music apps that are running. This post describes this only briefly, but there is a link to a longer discussion on another blog which delivers all the juicy technical details.

  2. Laura @Hearnsberger says:

    Instead of keeping track of which apps need to be “sniped,” especially those using valuable time on a limited data plan, isn’t it easier to get in the habit of closing everything down when you’re not using it? Plus, not having every app you have ever owned running improves the multitasking experience.

  3. Bryan says:

    Great information – was not aware of the 5 sec, 10 min, etc. categories.

    One additional tip to take advantage of iPad multitasking is to turn on Multitasking Gestures (Settings > General > Multitasking Gestures). I use the four or five finger swipe to switch apps all the time. Once you get the hang of it, the fact that you can only see one app at a time becomes much less of an issue when working on the iPad.

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