iOS Multitasking Myths

One of the most useful features of iOS, the operating system the runs iPads, iPhones and the iPod Touch, is the multitasking bar.  The purpose of the multitasking bar is to give you quick access to a list of recent apps you’ve used, allowing you to switch between apps without having to go to an app screen.  Pressing the Home button twice in quick succession opens the multitasking bar. When you do so, a list of recently used apps appears at the bottom of the screen.

Note that I wrote “Recently used apps.” I repeat, “RECENTLY USED APPS.” Notice I did not write “running apps.”

There are two persistent, yet inaccurate myths about the multitasking bar:

Myth 1: The multitasking bar is showing all the apps currently running on the device.

Myth 2: Clearing apps from this list will improve the device’s performance.

Let’s deal with Myth 1 first.

I checked the multitasking bar on my iPad. Scrolling through the list of apps, I counted 98 icons on the multitasking bar. So, I’ve run, at one time or another, 98 apps on my iPad.

Think about it. What computer, Windows PC or Mac, could run 98 apps at the same time? Given that most iPads have less memory than your average PC, it is unreasonable to believe an iPad could run 98 apps at the same time.

Now, let’s talk about Myth 2.

Tipsters will tell that by clearing the recent app list this will both free up memory and save battery life. You can clean up the list by pressing and holding one of the icons. The icons will shake and a minus sign appears by each. Pressing the minus sign, the myth goes, will “close” the app, freeing up memory and battery life.

I hate to break the news, but the iPad does not need your help managing memory or battery life.

Removing items from the list does nothing to improve performance or battery life. Your iPad has electronic memory called RAM. This is where the apps are when they are running. The app is safely stored in the flash memory when not in use. Think of flash memory as sort of an electronic hard drive.

iOS does a fine job managing apps without your help. When you close an app by pressing the Home button to return to an app screen, iOS places the app in what’s called background status. It’s sort of asleep, but still working in the background. If you switch back to the app using the multitasking bar, the app is ready for you within moments.

When a background app is not used, it will be moved to suspended status. Once in suspended status, it’s in the working memory but not doing anything. It’s not actively using the processor or sucking battery power.

In short, the app is asleep and not doing anything. All without your help.

Apps that are in suspended status are removed from RAM if another app needs space to work. The app is still safely stored on the device; it’s just not using any RAM.

So, to recap, the multitasking bar is a useful tool to switch between recently used apps. Removing items from the multitasking bar just cleans up the list. It does nothing to improve battery life or performance. iOS handles all that for you, so you can use your device without worrying about that technical stuff.