One of the biggest strengths of Android is the way it allows apps to continue running in the background, just like a normal computer does.
It gives Android a massive advantage over the likes of iOS and Windows Phone, which both have only limited support for multitasking. These operating systems constantly close apps when you switch away from them, then reopen them when you need them again. It makes these systems far less flexible in terms of what apps can do on them, and far less powerful for the user.
But Android’s strength in this area also gives rise to one of the most common questions: how do you close apps?
We’ll get to that in a moment. But first, the sideways answer: you don’t need to close apps on Android at all.
Why closing Android apps is worse than leaving them running
In fact, constantly closing apps can have a detrimental effect on your phone’s performance, and on its battery life.
Android is very good at managing its resources. It has a certain amount of memory (RAM) to work with, and it’ll happily allow apps to use as much as they need for best performance.
If RAM starts to get a bit short, and other apps and tasks need some, then the OS will quietly close one of the apps running in the background that you haven’t used for a while, and assign that app’s RAM to the new task.
As a result, apps can stay in memory for hours, days or potentially even weeks since you last used them. And this is fine. They’re not draining the battery or using other resources so there’s no downside; the upside is they will load much quicker when you need them, and load them right back to the place where you left off too.
(It’s also worth noting at this point that there’s really no benefit in keeping RAM free. RAM exists to be used, and using all of it at any given time—or virtually all of it at least—will ensure your phone or tablet runs smoother than if you try and keep some RAM free.)
With all this in mind, it becomes clear why closing apps can have a worse effect on Android than leaving them open.
Task killers are bad for Android
We’ve known for some time that task killers should not be used. Apps like Advanced Task Killer continue to rack up millions of downloads, despite being worthless or even harmful.
Task killers will frequently close down apps and services that are designed to be left running in the background. When these are closed, they open up again straight away, and the cumulative effect of this constant stopping and starting is that your phone gets slower and the battery drains quicker—the exact opposite of what these task killers are designed to achieve.
The same principle applies to manually closing apps too.
As Oasis Feng, the developer of the excellent power management app Greenify, explained recently:
Swiping away apps from recent tasks kills the process of those apps, thus prevent them from being cached in memory. When you launch them later, it takes longer time and much more CPU cycles to create the process and re-initialize the app runtime.
In short: don’t worry about closing apps as a matter of course. Android will take care of it.
How to close apps
All that said, there are occasions when you do need to close apps.
Maybe it has frozen; maybe it is using too many of your device’s resources (loading a large desktop webpage on a device with limited memory can do this); or maybe you want to “reset’ it back to the home screen rather than have it launch at the point where you last left it.
In these cases, and a few more, you should close the app manually.
The process differs slightly from one device to the next. In all cases it involves accessing the ‘recent apps’ menu.
On most recent devices this is a dedicated button. The HTC One M8 has one (on the original HTC One you need to double-tap the home button).
On recent Samsung Galaxy devices like the Galaxy S5, you tap the recent apps button to the left of the home button. On the Galaxy S4 or older, long press either the menu button or the home button.
To close apps on the LG G3 tap the recent apps button to the right of the home button at the bottom of the screen. This is the same as on Nexus devices, Sony Xperia phones and Motorola handsets such as the Moto X and Moto G.
On tapping (double-tapping or long-pressing as needed) the recent apps menu will open showing little thumbnail images of all the apps you’ve used recently and are in memory.
To close them, simply swipe them away—hold your finger down on the thumbnail image and swipe it off the screen, either left or right, or up or down, depending on the device.
The app will now be closed, and will free up the memory it was using.