double press home to open recent apps

Despite what you may have heard, closing apps on your iPhone or iPad won’t speed it up. But iOS does allow apps to run in the background sometimes, and you can manage that in a different way.

This myth is actually harmful. Not only will it slow down your use of your device, but it could use more battery power in the long run. Just leave those recent apps alone!

The Myth

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The myth states that your iPhone or iPad is keeping recently accessed apps open and running in the background. To speed things up, you need to close these applications like you would on a computer. On earlier versions of iOS, this was accomplished by double-pressing the home button and tapping the X on recently accessed apps.

On current versions of iOS, this can be accomplished by double-pressing the home button and swiping recently used apps to the top of the screen, where they’re removed from the multitasking view. You can also swipe up with four fingers on an iPad to open the switcher.

This Can Fix Frozen Apps

Swiping an app up and off the multitasking screen quits the application and removes it from memory. This can actually be convenient. For example, if an app is in a weird frozen or buggy state, just pressing Home and then going back to the app again may not help. But visiting the multitasking screen, quitting it with an upward swipe, and then relaunching the app will force it to start from scratch.

This is how you can forcibly quit and restart an app on iOS, and it works if you ever need to do that.

You Don’t Want to Remove Apps From Memory

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However, this won’t actually speed up your device. The apps you see in your list of recent apps aren’t actually using processing power. They are consuming RAM, or working memory — but that’s a good thing.

As we’ve explained before, it’s good that your device’s RAM is full. There’s no downside to having your RAM filled up. iOS can and will remove an app from memory if you haven’t used it in a while and you need more memory for something else. It’s best to let iOS manage this on its own. There’s no reason you’d want to have completely empty memory, as that would just slow everything down.

These Apps Aren’t Running in the Background, Anyway

The reason for this misunderstanding is an incorrect understanding of how multitasking works on iOS. By default, apps automatically suspend when they go into the background. So, when you leave a game you’re playing by hitting the Home button, iOS keeps that game’s data in RAM so you can quickly go back to it. However, that game isn’t using CPU resources and draining the battery when you’re away from it. It’s not actually running in the background when you’re not using it.

When you use an application on your desktop PC — Windows, Mac, or Linux — or open a web page in your web browser, that code continues running in the background. You may want to close desktop programs and browser tabs you’re not using, but this doesn’t apply to iOS apps.

How to Actually Prevent Apps From Running in the Background

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Some apps do run in the background thanks to iOS’s recent improvements to multitasking, however. A feature called “background app refresh” allows apps to check for updates — for example, new emails in an email app — in the background. To prevent an app from running in the background in this way, you don’t need to use the multitasking view. Instead, just disable background refresh for such apps.

To do this, open the Settings screen, tap General, and tap Background App Refresh. Disable background refresh for an app and it won’t have permission to run in the background. You can also check just how much battery power those apps are using.

Other cases of apps running in the background are more obvious. For example, if you’re streaming music from the Spotify or Rdio app and leave the app, the music will continue to stream and play. If you don’t want the app running in the background, you can stop the music playback.

Overall, apps running in the background aren’t something you need to worry about so much on iOS. If you want to save battery life and prevent apps from running in the background, the place to do it is in the Background App Refresh screen.

Believe it or not, removing apps from memory using the multitasking interface could actually lead to less battery life in the long run. When you re-open such an app, your phone will have to read its data into RAM from your device’s storage and re-launch the app. This takes longer and uses more power than if you had just let the app suspend peacefully in the background.

Image Credit: Karlis Dambrans on Flickr

Profile Photo for Chris Hoffman Chris Hoffman
Chris Hoffman is Editor-in-Chief of How-To Geek. He's written about technology for over a decade and was a PCWorld columnist for two years. Chris has written for The New York Times and Reader's Digest, been interviewed as a technology expert on TV stations like Miami's NBC 6, and had his work covered by news outlets like the BBC. Since 2011, Chris has written over 2,000 articles that have been read more than one billion times---and that's just here at How-To Geek.
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