To Force Quit, or Not to Force Quit: The Problem With Apple’s ‘Geniuses’

There seems to be a common misconception out there, and while there are experts far wiser than I fighting the battle to inform you of it, none of them write for this blog. So I’m going to take over. You can read on for some of the nitty-gritty details, but here’s the plain and simple of it:

Regularly force quitting apps on your iOS device as a force of habit is a waste of time, and completely unnecessary.

iOS 4.0, released in the summer of 2010, introduced multi-tasking to the iPhone and other iOS devices. Developers worked painstakingly to make sure that users could get the full multi-tasking experience without crippling the iPhone with poor performance and miserable battery life. Their approach, while simple, was genius.

Fraser Speirs, who wrote a lengthy post on the misconception of iOS multitasking two weeks ago, explains the five states that iOS apps can run in:

Not running – the app has been terminated or has not been launched.
Inactive – the app is in the foreground but not receiving events (for example, the user has locked the device with the app active)
Active – the normal state of “in use” for an app
Background – the app is no longer on-screen but is still executing code
Suspended – the app is still resident in memory but is not executing code

When a user quits an app in iOS, the app moves from Active to Background. An app running in Background mode is given a short time to finish up any current tasks, then moves to Suspended mode (usually within seconds). Suspended apps remain in the memory so as to be readily available to spring back into action. Suspended apps are promptly booted to Not Running if the device needs extra memory to run another app. An app that is in Suspended mode is not using your processor or sucking battery power.

iOS users can double tap the home button at any time to bring up the multi-tasking pane which shows a list of the icons of all of your apps in order of last use. Users may hold down any of the icons, and then press the red subtract button to force quit the app.

So, here’s the confusion. Some users think they need to force quit applications to free up memory or save battery life. What’s worse, Apple’s own Geniuses at their retail stores tout that same advice. Yet, Apple’s own documentation clearly states that this is unnecessary and a waste of time.

Now, there are a few exceptions to the rule. Poorly programmed apps can take over extra resources and cause issues to your phone, similar to a program that freezes up your Windows or OS X operating systems. In this case, force quitting the app is a great way to free your device to continue working (or playing). But force quitting your apps regularly is more akin to deleting your browsing history than force-quitting open applications.

This is a broad strokes overview. Fraser Speirs has some great explanations and a detailed Vimeo video with further information if you want to get more technical. But simply put, you do not have to force quit your apps on iOS.

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