Android Multitasking

Android robot

The ‘multitasking’ feature advertised on Android phones is often misunderstood. So, it’s time to take a closer look.

All versions of the Android OS have a multitasking feature. Generally, open any app and use it. When you switch to another app, the previous app moves to the background where it stays running. You can then switch back to your previous app instantly. Android automatically manages apps running in the background, but you can influence them also.

It is quite simple to use Android multitasking:

  • start any app you would like to use
  • press the Home button and start another app – Your Home button may be different depending on your device. See the Buttons description below.
  • press and hold the Home button (or for Android 4.0+, just press the Recent Apps button) – a Recent Apps list will appear.
  • choose the icon for the app to which you want to switch – the device instantly switches to the selected app.

A few clarifications about what happens behind the scenes when your use your device are in order when examining multitasking. Everything is automatic and you don’t need to worry about it, including:

  • when you leave an app – Android automatically leaves it running in the background.
  • if Android needs resources (memory or CPU) – Android will close apps that are not in use.
  • the Recent list is just a list of last used apps. It is not a list of running apps.
  • you CAN kill apps if you choose – press and hold the Home button; choose Task Manager; click Exit for the app you’d like to stop. A running app may use resources or network even though it is running in the background. If your device gets hot – you may have a few apps running in the background using the CPU. Android is supposed to fully manage that, but I have seen it happen.

Button Descriptions

Depending on your device and the version of Android – you will use a different button to get to the Recent Apps list as follows:

house Home Button – For versions before Android 4.0 – Long Press the Home button to launch the Recent Apps list. Long Press does not work on Android 4.0 +.

2 overlayed rectangles Recent Apps – For Android 4.0 and after – simply press the Recent Apps button to launch the Recent Apps list.

magnifying glass Search. Search won’t help you multitask. But, you can find your app this way to launch it.


So, Android multitasking is super simple and automatic.

Press and Hold the Home button to bounce around your apps. Oh, and by the way, Apple iOS multitasking is almost the same – press and hold the Home button TWICE quickly, then switch.

Here are some references if you’re so inclined:

About the author

I've been in software development for 30 years ranging across all platforms - from mainframes to Unix and Windows. I'm currently a CTO at a small company that focuses on integration to IBM middleware products for document management and work process automation, plus advanced search of images, photos, audio and video.