iOS and Multitasking: How Apple Can Improve Background App Information

I was having a Twitter discussion this morning with Shane Richmond, after he posted this article on his website: Why forcing an iOS app to quit won’t speed up your device. While I agree in principle with what he says in that article, I disagree with part of his conclusions. He says:

If an app is malfunctioning then, yes, forcing it to quit is the answer. But in normal use force-quitting apps will not make a difference.

The thing is, it may make a difference, but not in speed; it may make a difference in battery life.

First, a brief overview. As Apple explains, “Multitasking is a feature of iOS that allows applications to perform certain tasks in the background while you are using another application. […] Multitasking doesn’t slow down the performance of the foreground app or drain battery life unnecessarily.”

photo-1.PNGThe key word above is “unnecessarily”. Because while most apps go into a suspended state when in the background, not all do. In iOS, you can control this in Settings > Background app Refresh. But you won’t find all apps that use your battery “unnecessarily” in those settings. For example, you won’t find Skype, which can use a lot of your battery, listed there. This is, in some ways, to be expected: if you want to get calls via Skype, then the app needs to be running.

But if you use Skype, then forget about it, you may be surprised; this happened to me some months ago. I would have preferred being aware that I had simply forgotten to “quit” Skype on my iPhone that day.

Photo I think Apple needs to make some changes to the way multitasking is shown to users. The first step would be to automatically terminate apps that haven’t been used in a while – 24 hours, 3 days? – and that aren’t accepting push notifications, or using location or geofence services. The second would be to have an indicator, when you view the multitasking bar (press the home button twice), as to which apps are still active, and not suspended. This could be like the Dock in OS X, which has a little blue light under apps that are running.

With this information, users could see which apps are potentially draining their batteries, and would also no longer see a long list of apps that they think are open. Because the interface leads users to think that something is happening with those apps, even if this isn’t the case.

I find it interesting that, with iOS 7, I see some apps with blank windows, as you can see in the screenshot to the right. I never saw this in iOS 6. To me, this suggests that the apps have freed up memory because other apps need memory; therefore, they are not maintaining their window rendering. But I’m not sure about that…

Addendum: One commenter posted that Facebook drains his battery. I’ve heard this a lot, but never seen it happen to me. It’s possible that signing into chat on Facebook – which I don’t do – could have this effect.