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:

5 Replies to “Android Multitasking”

  1. Thanks for your explanation. My problem is that sometimes using the “Home” button DOES close the app.

    Example: Kindle Reader for Android. If I am reading a book and want to see what the weather is (Weather Underground is the best one, BTW), when I switch back to Kindle I have to start all over: wait while it loads, choose which book I want to read, and wait while it finds where I left off reading. Worse, if I have Email going and press the “Home” button, Task Manager will say it is running in the background & I can easily switch back to it almost instantly. However, if I run Kindle and press the “Home” key, not only does Kindle close but so does Email !

    I am sure there are examples other than Kindle.

    Some apps die or live randomly when I hit the “Home” button: Camera is one example.

    Of course, some apps like LOCATION and RHAPSODY run all the time whether you use it or not/ 🙁 And you can’t remove these apps since they are supplied with Android.

    In June I plan on upgrading to the Samsung Galaxy IV with Jellybean. Does task switching work better with that O.S.?

    Technical Info:
    * Samsung Droid Charge i510.06
    * Android 2.3.6

    Thanks for any suggestions.

    Ed Isenberg

    1. Android decides what to leave running based on 2 factors – RAM needed and CPU needed. CPU is seldom a factor unless you have a very intensive app. So, lack of RAM is usually the major culprit when Android decides to close something.
      Using Task Manager, you can determine how much (usable) RAM the device has – press and hold Home > Task Manager > then choose the RAM tab. With no apps running, you may see something like 300MB / 431MB meaning 300 used by the Android OS of 431 available. Android will not use up all available RAM – it will leave some headroom. Open a few apps and you will see the number rise obviously.
      From the Active Applications tab, you can see how much RAM each app is using. That gives you a clue to what apps might stay open.
      The Samsung Droid Charge probably has 328MB usable memory – not much room for many apps.
      The Samsung Galaxy S4 has 2048MB of RAM – so maybe 6 times the size of the Droid. That will be a gigantic improvement. Task switching doesn’t change much with Jellybean, but the RAM available on the device will be a major difference because many apps can stay active.
      Take a test drive at the store on the device to see how much RAM is available. RAM is not an advertised spec but Task Manager will tell you what is available. ‘Memory’ or ‘Storage’ are irrelevant.

  2. Do you think I can run video on youtube and also do surfing on net with current Andriod multitasking?

    If yes, let me know how.

    1. Sort of – but not really. When you switch to the another app, the youtube video pauses. I assume you want the video to keep playing while you’re surfing. If not, you can open a video using the youtube app, long-press the home button (youtube will pause), switch to the browser, surf, long press the home button, switch to youtube, and resume your video.

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