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To force quit or not to force quit apps? That is the question...

John Gruber, writing for Daring Fireball:

An awful lot of very hard work went into making iOS automatically manage background tasks like this. It's a huge technical advantage that iOS holds over Android. And every iPhone user in the world who habitually force quits background apps manually is wasting all of the effort that went into this while simultaneously wasting their own device's battery life and making everything slower for themselves.

Craig Federighi, senior vice president of software engineering at Apple, when asked if he force quit apps and if force quitting helped battery life, as quoted by MacRumors:

No and no.

Yours truly, way back in 2011, on iMore:

There will be rare -- rare -- occasions when a specific app, even an Apple app like Mail, stops working properly and a force-quit can get it to restart and behave itself. Once an a while your iPhone or iPad might get really sluggish and closing any big, recently played games might help.But when it comes to closing ALL apps, ALL the time, just remember: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.

And in 2012, on why Apple Genius' sometimes recommending force quitting apps, also on iMore,

If a customer comes to the Genius Bar with one poorly coded app or rogue process that's continuously slowing down their iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad, or causing massive battery drain, figuring out which app it is, and fixing it, can take a lot of time and effort. It can involve installing system monitoring tools, rebooting a lot, launching apps, testing, checking system status, killing apps, rebooting, deleting apps, reinstalling apps, etc. etc. It can involve a lot of things that some Apple Geniuses believe mainstream, non-technical users will have trouble understanding and doing.It flies against Apple's recommendation, it flies in the face of best trouble-shooting practices, and it makes advanced users cringe, but...Killing everything, in that specific case, for mainstream users, is the fastest, easiest path to problem resolution.

Personally, I almost never kill all the apps on my iPhone and iPad. I say "almost" because there are times when I'm running benchmarks or testing a beta or doing something else abnormal that I'll really need to it. Otherwise, I let iOS be iOS and manage its own resources and task running.

And, unless you're a software reviewer, developer, quality assurer, or someone else who really needs to be abnormal, so should you.

I do, however, force quit Facebook, Snapchat, and Pokémon Go far more often than I should need to. As far as I'm concerned, any app that goes out of its way to stay alive in the background, while draining my battery so fast it's almost visible in the indicator, has it coming.

So, my advice has always been and remains this:

The fast app switcher allows you to force quit apps for a reason. It also doesn't let you force quit all apps for a reason. If and when something goes wrong, use it with caution. Do it when you need to. Never do it just because you want to.

Because then you'll be the cause of bad behavior and excess battery drain.

Rene Ritchie
Contributor

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

34 Comments
  • I understand the argument that app management is so great on iOS that you don't need to quit your apps all the time. What I have never understood is the argument that quitting your apps is somehow *more* battery intensive than leaving them "open" (or whatever term is appropriate) in the background. Sure, quitting and opening and quitting and opening would probably drain your battery. But what if I just quit that app that I used once two weeks ago, and don't open it again until I need it again in two weeks? How is doing that somehow worse for my battery? Seems unlikely. And, given that *some* apps such as Facebook *do* drain your battery when you don't quit them, it seems to me a very reasonable practice, not obsessively every day but now and then, to quit apps that you haven't used in a while, just in case they are among the battery culprits.
  • I don't think anyone is taking issue with closing ill performing apps on an as needed basis....including always closing FB because it's a battery murderer. I think the argument for overall more battery drain is in the case of ALWAYS closing ALL apps. it clears all the cache and forces the apps to reload/recache, which is additional work that didn't need to occur. I would guess that the amount of additional drain would be hardly noticeable, though probably measurable.....
  • A lot of people force close apps every time they go to the homescreen, even when they'll open it again in a couple of minutes, that's where the uses more battery (and wastes time) argument comes in. As for your "now and then, to quit apps that you haven't used in a while", well, what is while? Even with the 3GB RAM in an iPhone 7 it is unlikely that much more than 10 apps remain suspended in RAM, anything further back is just shortcuts. In regards to battery, suspended apps are just that, suspended, they sit in RAM quickly accessible for the phone but they aren't running (silly things like Facebook's silent audio stream aside). If an app does something in the background it is through iOS API's for this and apps don't have to be in RAM to do that, apps you haven't opened in weeks can periodically do things like refresh data in the background.
  • Music apps when still running in the background have always caused my phone to heat up prompting me to immediately close the app as well as Facebook and most games. That’s what causes my battery drain not closing the apps. It makes no sense in how an app that’s running in the background is using less battery than an app that’s closed......
  • Ok, what’s being talked about here is not those apps that actually ARE running in the background, which are very few. What’s being talked about is the vast majority of apps that do not run in the background. What iOS does, when you click the button to get out of an app, is to take a snapshot of the state of the app. That’s is, where you are in the app, and what was being done. That is saved to storage. It takes very little memory for that, just a few kbytes. It then closes the app. When you look through which apps you have “running” you see the page of that app that was open. When you click on it, the app reopens exactly as it was. If you swipe to “close” the app, you are deleting the saved state, nothing more. Doing that uses processor cycles, and costs some very small battery drain that otherwise would not occur. If you do that with one app, here and there, it doesn’t matter. But if you do this on a regular basis, you will use battery life. But for those apps that do what the apps you have a problem with do, then closing them will actually be closing them, and will open RAM, and save processor cycles, and save battery life. I hope that helps.
  • unless you're on the ios11 beta.....
  • I only force close all apps and do a restart before a major iOS update, or of course if an app locks up, although this seems to happen on AppleTV - and that reminds me I hope they put a manual app update check on AppleTV instead of having auto update or off options.
  • I never close ALL apps for anything. Most apps sitting in multitasking are not running at all. Some apps need to run in the background to perform as we want them to. I keep Facebook closed out most of the time because I don't use it much. I prefer the Facebook client Friendly +. It behaves much better. I also keep Background App Refresh on for all apps, so those that do run in the background, do so more efficiently. That saves resources.
  • I close apps that I won't use again in hours or days, but keep open apps like Spotify, Podcasts, Newton (email), BBM and any other app that I'm currently using or will use again soon. I don't force close apps because I think it saves battery, I force close them to make app-switching faster. The current implementation isn't efficient for me when I get beyond 5 or 6 open apps. I know that it's not a universal problem, but it's a problem for me.
  • I'm curious. How does it make app switching faster? Do you go to the app switcher to 're-launch' an app, or do you just go to the icon on whatever start page it is on? I can see a ton of apps in the switcher would make them hard to find, but is that how it should be done? Hitting the icon from start is the same as hitting the thumbnail in switcher, for an open app, isn't it?
  • I use the app switcher (double click home button) to switch between open apps. I have most of my apps inside of folders, so having to tap the home button to get out of an app, then tap on the screen to get out of the folder the last-launched app is in, then tapping on the folder of the next app I want to open, then tapping on the app icon inside of that folder is more taps and slower than using the app switcher. The app launches in the same state whether you use the app switcher or click on the icon from a home screen. Some examples of when I use the app switcher:
    1) I launch an app that requires login, then use the app switcher to open 1Password, then back to the app
    2) When sending a message I will use the app switcher to go into Chrome or to look at my calendar, or an email to get information that I need to include in the message. A good example is when I'm working remotely I'll use my laptop for work, and use my iPhone for communication - Outlook for email/calendar, Skype for messaging, Zoom for Meetings, and need to switch between them frequently.
  • That does not make app switching faster. In fact, it has nothing to do with it.
  • It's faster because there are less apps in the switcher to scroll through. It's not improving the speed of the software, but the speed of the human using it (me).
  • Well, that’s different. But you lose more time by spending it going through all the apps that you’re turning off, so you really gain nothing.
  • It's not a wash in time spent, because I'm going into the app switcher to go to a different app anyway, so I just flick up on the app I was just in if its one that I don't want to persist in the app switcher. Going out of and into folders would take more time compared to the app switcher for each switch.
  • That’s why iOS 11 allows up to 15 Apps to be placed in the new app bar at the bottom, for the 12.9” model, and about 12 for the 10.5”. They’re all there, in a row. Those would be your most often used apps, and you don’t have to use the switcher at all.
  • That's handy for iPad; a good decision. iPad should have more dense icon layout in general, IMO. It doesn't help me on iPhone, the only iOS device I own, but at least it indicates Apple is actively working to improve usability efficiency.
  • Force quitting apps has become an ingrained mindset for many. I would compare it to the old wive’s tale of the “clean install” of macOS, or “optimizing” your hard drive. You simply can’t convince people those steps are not necessary. There are people who to this day completely erase and re-install macOS on a regular basis to be sure there’s no ‘corruption’. Throw in those who always use the ‘combo updater’ and claim it’s better than the delta update and you get my drift.
  • This article is contradicting. If we don't need to forcequit apps because they don't drain the battery in the background, why does it say that Facebook, Snapchat and Pokemon Go drains the battery in the background?
  • They're the exception to the rule that, generally, apps are paused and not taking up any cycles while in the background. Some might call them bad citizens of iOS. The noisy neighbor that parties all night and won't let you sleep, so to speak. Back in iOS 4 when "multitasking" was introduced, it wasn't really possible to do any significant work in the background. Just a few, like music, location, or a few extra minutes to finish up a task you started while the app was active. As the years went on, refinements to permitted activity included starting downloads from a notification, and "background app refresh"--no more than every 15 minutes, or when a new content notification is delivered silently, whichever is less often. Apps like Facebook and Snapchat decided they want to cache content more often than every 15 minutes so everything is ready to go the next time you open (because, of course, they want you to use it more often than every 15 minutes!). So, they use those few extra minutes after entering the background, push notifications to download, location tracking, background app refresh, every trick in the book, any chance they get in order to download and store new content. This causes the battery drain they're famous for. In fact, swiping the app away may not entirely stop the bleeding, as apps can spawn background tasks from some of these hooks into the OS even if the app is not shown in the switcher. (Fun experiment: close them from the app switcher for 24 hours and watch and see if they still show up in the battery shaming list; I'm betting they will, especially if you tend to get a lot of notifications from them) If you're interested in some cold hard facts, there are a couple of posts floating around the internet, referencing tests using Xcode Instruments to justify continuing to swipe apps away in the switcher. Here's one: https://www.macobserver.com/tips/deep-dive/force-quit-ios-apps/ I couldn't find the other one I recently read that had some good strong points, but you can try it yourself if you have the tools. The CPU usage shown there is not the end all be all of battery usage, either - the cell radio and the screen are other major hogs that are harder to instrument
  • Biggest reason I force quit apps is to clean up the list. I generally just leave everything alone, but there are times I've opened so much over a few days that the list is just ridiculous.
  • If I have more than 10 apps open, it will become sluggish. This may just be an isolated problem, as I have way too many hardware issues with my phone, But force quitting apps definitely helps a lot.
  • There is no possible way that iOS becomes sluggish from having more apps “open”. As we’ve said several times already here, these apps are not open, not using RAM and not using processor cycles. Unless you’re using the few specific apps that are designed to run in the background, what you’re saying isn’t true. You’re imagining it, because you think it’s a real thing, which it isn’t. If you’re having hardware issues, I suggest you go to Apple, and see if you can get those problems taken care of.
  • We just had an Apple Rep at one of our user group meetings, and this issue came up. The bottom line: just as the first tech help question for Mac support is "when did you last restart your Mac", the only problem with iPhones is people NEVER turn them off. So instead of spending time dragging apps up to quit them on your iPhone, power it off and after you start it up again, very likely you'll notice great improvement.
  • This as well, sometimes an app will just refuse to open (we'll use the YouTube app just for example) on one of my parents phones, so I tell them to simply turn it off and back on and BAM!! YouTube opens again. They simply refuse to do this even though I've proven them that any issues with any of their device are pretty much always solved by this process. And no, their devices are on stock OS.
  • That's nice, except imore doesn't take 1 other thing into one consideration when writing articles like this, and that is Jailbreaking. Sure a jailbreak itself will not chew up RAM, but I can assure you with more than a few tweaks installed and more than a few apps open at the same time, a change in performance will be noticeable. So yeah, wish you guys would break that down as well. Yes, I am aware that those are the consequences of my actions, but unless you have ever used a Jailbroken OS you would know I'm not imagining it, it will in fact, "lag." As fas having hardware issues (Bluetooth, Touch ID, and Wifi), thanks but my phone is currently out of warranty and considering a next gen device is only weeks away, it's pointless to spend $329 on possibly another replacement device that may or may not also have issues in itself. The current phone I'm using is actually a replacement device, oddly enough. And lastly yes, I do run plenty of apps that run on the background as well, and oddly enough, when I delete said app (*cough*Facebook*cough*) somehow my phone does tend to run just a tad bit better.
  • I've always been in a habit of force-quitting iOS apps I'm not using.... because I guess I've been through too many decades of IT 'in theory' vs 'reality' experience. Yes, I'm sure iOS is better designed in this regard than other OSs, but I know there are many exceptions out there (as noted in the article and comments) and probably many, many more beyond those in reality that are too subtle to become obvious. The other issue is just odds. What are the odds some app is going to cause a problem which ends up impacting the rest? On newer devices, I don't have the problem as often, but I remember times on my iPad 2, where an app crashed and impacted others or the whole OS. More and more apps running increase the overall complexity of the 'system.' Or, I've found situations where apps aren't obeying the settings (or even changing them), about using cell data or doing stuff in the background (or, communicating when I don't want them to, like if the VPN is off and I'm in a coffee shop). There's a difference between 'can I do something,' 'should I do something,' and 'is it most prudent to do something.' While I should probably back off on my quitting-compulsion (if for no other reason than to save the 'home' button on my iPhone SE), quitting stuff I'm not using or won't use in the near future puts the odds back in my favor.
  • I think the biggest problem with getting people to not force-close apps is the fact that everyone's paranoid about draining their battery, which they have a right to be like that. Phones still don't have as much battery life as they should have, which is half due to resisting making the phones thicker, and half due to not having any real developments in battery technology. I dream of a day where I can charge my phone to 100% in the morning, and use it throughout the day how I like without worrying at all about the battery running out. This could be a day out travelling and using my phone's maps most of the time, whilst taking pictures. There's no way you can do this now, since the combination of GPS usage and photo-snapping would eat the battery in no-time. So, that day isn't here yet, so yes people will still force close apps, and people will still turn off Wi-Fi/Bluetooth when not using them
  • I never think about force quitting an app from the "switcher dock" with regards to its potential impact on [iOS] system performance. For me, it's ENTIRELY about tidiness. If I wanted to swipe through numerous apps/pages to get to the one I need at any given moment, then I'd just use the app icons, or even the search function. I simply prefer not to have more than 4 persistent apps to swipe through at any given time because (for me) it defeats the purpose of having a quick-access function if it's loaded to the point of reducing its efficiency. For example, have you ever seen a Desktop with so many icons on it that they begin stacking in the upper right-hand corner, as though it's intended to be permanent storage? ..... Yeah...... Just, no.
    xD
  • I think it's great that all the engineering has gone into managing power v. RAM v. start up time on iOS devices, but people don't force quit apps because it is working as intended, they do it because consistently over time it has been necessary because the iOS environment has not been good about policing itself. Apple has a closed environment, developers should not be allowed to continue to produce apps that violate the standards of usage. If an APP has a runaway memory process, it should be killed by the OS dead. Additionally, if an APP does not release memory correctly when it is in the background, Apple should note that, and not allow them to release a new version until it is corrected. We have these articles where the pundits implore the users not to force quit apps, but how about they implore the developers to make betters apps where that is not necessary to maintain the ecosystem and have Apple use the bully pulpit of App Review to enforce the standards. Blaming users for force quitting apps is the 2017 equivalent of "You're holding it wrong." The developer community and Apple should wash the windows in their own glass house before throwing stones at users.
  • Force quitting apps to clean up is a waste of time and always has been, but it's necessary to force quit the occasional runaway app. I think one of the fundamental issues is that of RAM - I have a v1 iPad Air, and Safari becomes non-responsive if I have more than 3 or 4 tabs open on a lot of news type sites, and I need to force quit it, then when it starts again I have to quickly close some tabs before it reloads all of them. I'll be upgrading to the 10.5" model since it has 4GB RAM.
  • This article is frustrating; Look... I prefer to have a clean slate. I have a few apps open at a time because I switch between them (e.g. maps and music in the car), but I don't want them just sitting around if I'm not using them. So I clear them. Why would I WANT 40 apps in the switcher? How is that a 'feature' or something that any user wants? Sure, it's "convenient" to leave them there if you don't care, but for those of us that use the app switcher as a temporary dock for the apps currently being used, closing them makes more sense. It reduces clutter, it looks cleaner, and it allows me to know what's "open" or "running" (traditionally)... This is all news to me, and it's irritating to learn that I'm being even slightly less efficient maintaining an orderly interface. Maybe they should rethink the "You be lazy and we will be most efficient in that state" perspective. Also, on the flip side, who honestly cares about a few CPU cycles used to clear those apps? I see no reason to keep them open and I bet it hardly matters.
  • Same here. I never enjoy seeing all those apps in the task switcher. It triggers me, just like seeing 15+ browser tabs open in one window (different story if it were multiple windows with <=10 tabs open). Clean slate FTW!
  • I close all of my apps for the sake of tidiness, organization. i don't wanna see an app I haven't used all day in the task switcher. Even worse, I hate seeing 10+ apps in the task switcher. I like them around 5 at a time, just like I prefer my browser tabs 5 at a time per window, unless I needed more for one specific task.