May 7, 2010 | by Andrew Kameka
There’s a great deal of confusion about the way Android handles multitasking, says Android Software Engineer Dianne Hackborn. In a recent blog post, Hackborn clarifies that Android doesn’t require apps to close when users are “done” with them; however, that doesn’t mean apps running in the background negatively affect performance. Look at this particular excerpt from Hackborn’s article:
Applications may seem present to the user without an actual process currently running the app; multiple applications may share processes, or one application may make use of multiple processes depending on its needs; the process(es) of an application may be kept around by Android even when that application is not actively doing something.
What exactly does this mean? You don’t need to kill an app just because a task manager says it’s running. Android automatically closes apps if the phone requires RAM or if that app remains inactive too long.
In 2009, HTC Dream users noticed sluggishness in their phones and searched for a way to speed up the device. Apps like Advance Task Manager and Taskiller Pro emerged as tools to quickly see what was running and kill everything as a means of speeding up the phone. It seemed like a godsend to users but some argue that the apps are not as valuable as once thought.
Days after I read Hackborn’s post, a reader sent me a tip about comments from Cyanogen, a well-known Android modder who also feels task managers have minimal use. After fielding complaints from users experiencing problems on his CyanogenMod version of Android, he posted the following tweets:
TASK MANAGER DEVELOPERS RESPOND
However, developers of task killing apps are of a different opinion. Arron La, developer of Advance Task Manager, suggests that task killers are more important for legacy devices like the G1 and phones running older versions of Android.
“Task Managers were absolutely needed in the past before the new services UI came out in Android 2.0 or 2.1,” La said in an e-mail. “Task Managers had a niche of allowing users to quickly kill services associated with apps – including all the other stuff as well, such as alarms – but that was the only way to do it before the introduction of the new services UI.”
La contends that task managers may someday fall out of favo , but believes Advance Task Manager still has value because it provides a quicker end-all strategy. But should Android users interfere with Android’s inherent ability to end processes and services?
Of the dozens of task apps in the Android Market, several include “auto-kill” functions that will periodically kill apps. In certain apps, this can interfere with sync or background services, even if those apps have been whitelisted. An errant auto-kill can mess with your calendar or email, prevent an alarm from ringing, or even create problems for playing music in the background. Imagine my surprise when I saw a Last.fm dev team member say that task killers complicate background music of the Last.fm app
GREAT APP OR GOOSE CHASE?
Even the developer of TaskOS concurs, though he makes it a point to say that TaskOS is more about task switching and ending apps only when absolutely necessary.
“It’s very bad to kill services on Android because those services are loaded with a lot of information and are ‘sleeping’ without using battery usage,” says Christophe. “That’s why TaskOS doesn’t show services…Killing one application when you know what to do is [beneficial]. Killing mass applications is bad.”
I’ve long been a fan of task killers because they helped me free up RAM when my G1 was acting sluggish. I’m not so sure that it is beneficial to continue using it. Is my phone really seeing an uptick in performance or is it all just the placebo effect of an unnecessary product?
“The question is meaningless as long as there are many users to use the task manager,” argues Xiao of Estrongs Task Manager. “Where there are requirements, there are applications.”
The Android Market has dozens, possibly hundreds, of task killer apps all vying for attention. I’m sure some people may argue that there’s some short-term value to these apps; however, it appears that task killers are not necessary and in some cases do more harm than good. An additional 20 minutes of use or short bursts of freed RAM can be great, but users shouldn’t compromise experience and overall health of their device for that extra time.
Let me be clear in stating that apps like Advance Task Manager or TaskOS have great virtues like batch uninstall and app switching that many people can still benefit from using. With that said, it seems that constantly killing tasks, apps, and processes is not in the best interest of your phone. Android already has the natural ability to do this effectively, so let the phone do its job.
[Many thanks to Don for inspiring this post!]