Why You Shouldn’t Make a Habit of Force-Quitting iOS Apps or Restarting iOS Devices

Originally published at: https://tidbits.com/2020/05/21/why-you-shouldnt-make-a-habit-of-force-quitting-ios-apps-or-restarting-ios-devices/

A surprising number of people continue to force-quit iOS apps and restart or shut down their iOS devices as a matter of habit. Except when recovering from a frozen app or misbehaving device, those behaviors will reduce battery life and hurt performance. Here’s why.

1 Like

Another side of the coin to consider.

Adam’s right…theoretically killing apps reduces battery life…but I wonder if that is actually true in a meaningful sense…i.e., how much does battery life get killed by relaunching apps. I would tend to think that the actual reduction is small and just gets lost in the weeds of usage.

Similarly…how much time is wasted by waiting on apps to relaunch.I didn’t do any sort of engineering analysis…but a quick test shows that it might be a second or two slower launch…but not always as the app may have been essentially quit by iOS anyway by the time you get back to it.

Lastly…one gets to know what apps misbehave and need killing…for my wife and I it’s the local PBS radio station app. It’s got a sleep timer option and it works correctly if you freshly launch the app every night. If you don’t…then it lasts usually 3 nights before the sleep timer doesn’t turn it off after the selected time…but sometimes it’s 2 and sometimes it’s 4 or 5…so we’ve gotten in the habit of killing it every morning rather than wake up at 0300 with the radio still on.

I generally agree that force quitting should be reserved for apps that “needed killing anyway” as they used to say out in the Old West…but the limited relaunch time delay and questionable battery life issues (unless the latter is quantified somewhere) don’t really seem to be much of an issue.

Yeah…Apple says that it’s not necessary…but then Apple says that if you read a message on an iOS device the Unread blue dot will disappear…which isn’t always true. They also probably would say that if you were in Mail and switched to another app then went back to Mail you would be displaying the same mail in left and right columns as when you left…and that when you are reading messages in Mail and you deleted them the left hand column would auto scroll so the currently viewed in the right hand column message was visible and highlighted in the left column…and neither of those are true as well so I’m not sure that Apple’s recommendation really means much in reality albeit it is probably correct in a world without a buggy iOS.

2 Likes

In general this all makes sense.

Waze is a notable exception in my experience. It seems to actively strive to keep using Location Services no matter what your setting for that might be. And when I have finished using it, it will continue trying to read the GPS location (presumably to help me remember where my driveway is) unless I force quit it.

I agree with the general point, though, and appreciate the article.

3 Likes

As I mentioned, @andkim1974 said that her iPad lasted 4 days instead of 1 after stopping this behavior. That’s way more than weeds.

It’s undoubtedly not a lot per launch, as I say. But the mere fact that you think, “I must quit this app,” and you open the App Switcher, find it, and swipe up is more than a second or two. If someone said you should pull your earlobe every time you were done using an app, you’d say they were crazy. But that’s pretty much what’s going on here—a thought and action that’s at best completely unnecessary and at worst reducing battery life and performance.

1 Like

That’s a shame, and it’s too bad that the developers (owned by Google now, right?) haven’t fixed that behavior.

Since my post originally inspired this piece—thanks, Adam!—I feel compelled to remind everyone that my query was triggered by an app (Words With Friends) that indeed had frozen, leaving me unable to reach other apps, and by a new iPhone where force-quitting wasn’t working as on my previous iPhone. (Because: Reachability!)

1 Like

True…and I only kill apps that deserve it. My wife kills more but generally only the misbehaving ones.

The biggest irony is that force quitting an iOS app doesn’t even quit the app. The app still resides in memory!

All force quitting does is send a signal to the app that the next time it comes into the foreground, the app should reinitialize itself.

iOS manages its memory. When more memory is needed, iOS will determine what apps to kill or cache memory that can be freed. In fact, if an app is written correctly, you’ll never know if an app quit since apps are supposed to save their state since any time they could be terminated by the OS. A well written app should restart and return to exactly the point where it left off.

5 Likes

I think a lot of it depends on your device. For instance, my iPhone 6, which only has 1GB of RAM, tends to terminate apps whether or not I “force quit” them, simply because other apps need the memory. Especially the games, which tend to consume all free memory on this device. I know this is happening, because the game will go through its entire “cold start” sequence on launch, even if I only switched away (e.g. to Messages or Mail) for a few minutes.

On the other hand, my iPod Touch (which has 2GB of RAM), doesn’t have this problem. I can switch away from a game to something else (even other games), and come back to find it still running where I left it, even a few days later.

FWIW, I only force-quit apps when I see something weird happening. Usually when I notice the system becoming sluggish - I assume some app is monopolizing the CPU. Since I don’t know which one (and usually don’t want to take the time to find out), it’s easy enough for just force-quit them all. But I only do that when I’m seeing a problem. Under normal circumstances, I let iOS handle process management.

But I can’t agree with the article when it comes to the Mac platform.

That’s nothing :slight_smile:. My mid-2011 Mac mini server, running Sierra has an uptime of 231 days! Mostly because Apple hasn’t shipped any updates that require a reboot for quite a long time.

I’m sure that having 16 GB of RAM also helps

My mini server is never shut down and never goes to sleep because it’s a server for my home network. It needs to be available 24/7 for devices that need to access it (including mundane services like DHCP).

I do make a point of quitting apps when I’m done with them, however. There are too many apps with memory leaks (Microsoft Office and Firefox, I’m looking at you) to leave them running 24x7. If I do that, their memory footprints grow and grow without end, killing all system performance when the swapping begins. Quitting when I’m done with the app and restarting when I need it again eliminates this problem.

I don’t see reduced performance because macOS has very good caching (especially with 16GB of RAM, when I don’t generally need nearly that much). An app that may take a minute to launch (from a hard drive) the first time after a login will re-launch in a second or two, even if it’s been a few days since I quit. Since I only log out in order to switch users (e.g. some other family member needs to use it), everything I commonly use launches pretty fast.

My MacBook Air is similar. I quit apps when I’m done with them for pretty much the same reason. But the need is greater there because that computer only has 4GB of RAM and 128GB of SSD. And yes, that computer is asleep whenever I’m not actively using it - battery life is far more precious than CPU cycles on a laptop!

I force-quit apps for one reason – to reduce location and other information that is shared about me.

I use Privacy Pro, tweak iPhone Settings such as those under Privacy as well as Background App Refresh. But this is not perfect since I sometimes need to disable those settings to get an app to work.

I could delete the offending apps, and in many cases, I have done so. But I also want the convenience of using other apps that, unfortunately, send data to marketing entities and others. In those cases, I use the app and then force-quit when I am done. I am minimizing the shared data – the app gets me while I use the service, but then I cut off the flow by force-quitting. (Privacy Pro is very good at showing the offending activity.)

Hope this force-quit rationale makes sense.

4 Likes

I am an avid force-quitter — though to be fair, that’s not how I’ve thought of it before. I always likened it to closing an app, same as I do on Mac. When I’m done with the app, I close it until I need it again.

I am in no way doubting the technical accuracy, but this seems crazy to me. I use the app switcher as a sort of to-do list, in that if it’s open it’s because I need it. The prospect of having hundreds of apps open (every app still on the phone since I started it up) makes me feel physically ill.

The mental overhead that would require for me to be able to switch between apps is not insignificant; it seems bonkers to me that I have do more work so that the computer can do less work. I understand that it’s in large part due to the mental model in my head being incompatible with that of the device, though I would also argue there are better ways Apple could have dealt with this (have the app switcher be apps that are “active,” and removing it from that screen does NOT remove it from memory, with a separate way to “force-quit” misbehaving apps, which apparently should be done extremely infrequently).

8 Likes

Adam writes:

"When you invoke the App Switcher in iOS, you can swipe right to see all the apps you’ve used, possibly since you got your device. (The very first app in my iPhone 11 Pro’s App Switcher is Apple’s Tips, which I think came up automatically when I turned the iPhone on last year and hasn’t been touched since. It’s difficult to count apps in the App Switcher, but I probably have at least a hundred in there.) "

I wonder how fast you can find the app that you want to use next among those hundred.

5 Likes

Servers are of course Macs of a different color. :slight_smile:

It sounds like you’re actually relatively similar to me. I don’t quit my standard apps because they don’t have memory leaks—for a while, Spark while running in Mojave had a heck of a leak (I’ve caught it using 40+ GB of my 32 GB of RAM). But either they fixed it or the problem went away in Catalina.

Privacy Pro is this?

I can’t argue with why you’re force-quitting apps, since you’re obviously aware that the best solution is to avoid using such privacy abusers whenever possible, but I am curious about one thing. Privacy Pro can identify apps that are sending your data out in the background even when you presumably have Location Services set to While Using and Background App Refresh turned off, but it can’t block that behavior?

It sounds as though you’ve centered your use of iOS around the App Switcher rather than the Home screen. I won’t say that’s “wrong” per se, but it does feel odd, given that it’s not something you can see by default and accessing it is harder than viewing the home screen. Plus, the order of thumbnails in the App Switcher constantly changes, so you’ll need to exert more mental effort to identify apps there (though the thumbnails are much bigger) than with Home screen icons in static locations.

You don’t say what model iPhone or iPad you’re using, but with the Face ID models, swiping along the bottom of the screen switches between apps without entering the App Switcher at all. It’s a fluid and highly functional approach, if wildly non-discoverable.

I never bother looking past the last three or four apps because it would take way too long to figure out what app I want among a constantly resorted list. In fact, as I suggested above, I almost never use the App Switcher at all because it’s much harder to use than the Face ID-device swipe-along-the-bottom trick for switching among the last few apps.

While I am on board with never force quitting apps except when one is misbehaving, there is security value to periodic reboots to remove exploits, as many don’t have persistence past a reboot. This is not a concern for most people as it is rare and the result of being targeted (reporter, politician, activist, repressed population, etc).

1 Like

Isn’t app resource usage a problem with more than one dimension (CPU usage/power drain)? For example. Wunderground, my favorite weather app, by default has the setting “Background App Refresh” set to On.

If your iOS device is snoozing the night away in someplace outside the reach of secure WiFi (it happens), or even spending a few hours in that situation, and if that someplace has poor wireless reception, keeping an app with frequent data and display updates active may be ramming the transponder power up to maximum again and again. I realize that the solution in this case is setting the Wunderground background refresh preference to OFF, but if one’s sleepy or distracted, one might forget.

I feel certain there are scores of the repopulate apps that also download data in a way users like. Maybe iOS needs a option that prevents all cellular data downloads while Do Not Disturb is active.

And yes, my phone has more than once decided to burn 20% or more of its remaining charge overnight (and thus going into the dreaded I Will Not Talk To You Until You Plug Me In To a Power Source mode) even while connected to a WiFi network, with three "bars.’

1 Like

I explained this to a friend as being like “taking the trash out to the end of the driveway every time you put something into the garbage can.” That got the sense of how it wasted resources.

That’s how people run out of space on their laptops. They never empty their trash can. In this case, whatever resources are being kept around to show that you used an app 6 months ago.

1 Like

Just leave it permanently off. That way there’s nothing to forget. Whenever you want to check the weather you’ll be bringing the app to the foreground where it will then update.

Wow I’d be very careful around her!

I agree force quitting is pointless and wastes battery, but this doesn’t pass my BS test ! Something else was going on IMHO.

2 Likes