AppSwitcher – From Episode 277

posted in: IOS Reviews by Garth


This week we are looking into a feature of IOS rather then an application. We are taking a quick look at the Application Switcher. You can bring it up by double pressing your home button. It holds a list of your most recently used apps. These apps are not actually running in the background, well not usually.

Apple in there infinite wisdom have chosen not to burden us with too much information. The app switcher is supposed to be exactly what it is called. It is a way of quickly jumping between your most frequently used apps. You can’t tell whether an app that is in the switcher is actually doing anything in the background or not.

Those who are a little familiar with computers are comfortable with the notion of a task manager and we hear that IOS has multi tasking. When you bring up the app switcher it is normal to put two and two together and, in this case get five. It has some similarities to a task manager but if you thought of the app switcher like this you would be going down the wrong path.

You’d be better to think of it as nothing more then a list of shortcuts to your most recently used apps. There are a few exceptions but an app in the app switcher is not doing anything in the background, that is it is not using valuable processor cycles and chewing up your battery or slowing down your phone. It may be using a little bit of your phones RAM though. When you close an app, the app has a few seconds to sort it’s self out so to speak. It can hold it’s state in RAM so that if you go back to the app it is able to take you back to where you left off quickly as though it was running in the background the whole time.

As you open and close different apps more and more of the RAM will be holding states of various apps. This also is not a bad thing. There is really no point in having valuable RAM sitting around doing nothing. Most of the RAM should be earning it’s place most of the time. If an app that is being used in the foreground needs some additional RAM space, the OS frees it up by allocating the space being used by the least recently used app. So after a while if you never clear out your app switcher you’ll have apps there that aren’t even using any RAM.

The long and short of all this is that having apps in the app switcher means little more then you’ve opened the app. It does not mean that it is chewing up valuable resources.

As I said there are a few exceptions. Some classes of apps are able to continue to “run” in the background and there removal from the switcher could improve your phones performance. VOIP apps are one such example. GPS, streaming and apps downloading all fall into this category. At least to some degree or another. An app like Downcast will be able to continue to download your podcasts in the background for a certain amount of time. After a few minutes of being away from the forefront the OS will force the app to quit whether it is finished downloading your podcasts or not.

An app like Navigon is allowed to continue to run in the background for as long as it is taking you somewhere. A GPS app that forgets to take you off at the third exit of the next roundabout because you had a phone call come in wouldn’t be much use to anyone. Of course you wouldn’t have taken the call but you don’t want the app to stop monitoring where you are just because you switched to another app.

IOS does a good job of managing all this but occasionally an app won’t give up it’s memory or doesn’t quit like it should or, well, something goes wrong. You may find an app crashes and won’t play nicely when you go back to it. It’s time like these that it can be a good idea to remove it from the app switcher. This gets rid of the stored state and lets you start again with the app. Also there’s something gratifying that we’ve all learnt from years of using Windows about going through that app switcher and clearing everything out. Most of the time it won’t do all that much for the battery life or performance of our phones but it sure will feel good.

Now finally to the how to bit. You just need to press and hold an app in the app switcher and yo will see it jiggling. The little delete thingy will come up and you can just delete it. You can continue to delete apps till all the pages of apps are gone.

The app switcher also lets you get to your media controls. When you bring it up with a double tap of the home button, swipe to the right. You’ll pull over the play,next and previous track buttons, etc. Another swipe will bring up more controls including the lock rotation switch. This is a very handy one for me.

The iPad has a few extra gestures which aren’t available on the iPhone. You can do a four finger swipe up to bring up the app switcher rather then the double tap. Also, whilst in an app you can do a four finger swipe to the side to switch between apps.

All of this is also perfectly accessible with Voice Over, the built in screen reader for the blind and visually impaired. From in the app switcher VO users need to double tap and hold, VO will say “editing apps” and you can double tap to delete the apps.

In short it’s best used the way apple intended, for switching apps. But now and then take out your frustration by going through and deleting the lot.




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