iOS 4: Trimming Down Your Multitasking App List

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iOS 4 added third party app multitasking support to the iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4, and along with it a seemingly never ending list of every app you’ve launched. You can’t stop your iPhone from adding every app you launch to that list, but at least you can trim it down.

Every app you launch appears in the multitasking list, which can be handy since it offers a kind of quick switching feature that lets you jump from app to app without relaunching. As that list grows, however, you’ll end up flicking through screen after screen — four icons at a time — to find the app you really want to jump to.

Here’s how to trim down your multitasking app list:

  • Double-tap your iPhone’s Home button to show the list of running apps. You’ll see a row of four apps at the bottom of your display.
  • Tap and hold on any of the apps in the multitasking view to enable the familiar looking edit mode with jiggling app icons.
  • Tap the red minus symbol at the upper left corner of the apps you want to quit.

Tap the red circles to quit apps in iOS 4

Trimming down your multitasking app list makes it easier to find the apps you regularly use, and some people have found that their iPhone runs faster when the list is shorter, too.



The only time I can imagine the phone running faster is when the app trimmed happens to actually have been in memory (or maybe if it was, for example, a GPS app that was actively navigating for you).

If you’re curious about which of those apps really is in memory, I recommend iStat. You’ll be surprised at how few of those apps are really running.


The simpler solution for rarely-used apps that would be on the third or fourth pane would be to go to the regular home screen and launch it from there.

The switcher is really handy for quickly switching between complementary apps—check google for a bit of information then paste it into an email, for example.

It’s not worth the bother to use it to open Ocarina or a game you last played last week. But then, that’s not what it’s designed for either.

The benefits of multi-tasking aren’t lost if you open an app from the home screen as we have since the beginning, so if it’s too much trouble to find an app in an ever-shifting list of apps, don’t look for it there. Look for it on your home screen(s) where you put it.

Trimming the app list is certainly possible, but it truly gains you nothing, and you’ve just wasted that time closing the apps.


the list holding every app you open is a waste.  it should only keep stuff that is multitasked, or at a max 8 apps.  last night i cleared easily 20 apps off of it, some i hadn’t used in a week.  where is the benefit in that????

Mark Hernandez

This is a really bad bad bad bad bad bad article.

Jeff, you don’t understand what is going on with that list, and you’ve just confused a whole bunch more people.

It’s supposed to be dead simple, and you’ve helped make it complicated.

The list is just there for you to quickly go back to something VERY recent, like in the past few minutes.

There’s not point to trimming your list ever ever ever.  It’s pointless. It serves no purpose. Find where Apple has said you should go in and trim your list.

Folders are what you use to find apps you regularly use.


<shaking head>

Mark Hernandez
Information Workshop


Scott, I don’t know what the benefit is. That’s why I don’t bother clearing them. I’m sure maintaining a list of apps takes up almost no memory. In fact, it’s entirely possible that the list is a fixed array so clearing has no benefit at all.

If an app is too far down in the list, I don’t bother launching it there, but just go to the springboard.

A bigger complaint I have is that folders don’t autoclose after you launch an app. With the switcher, I find I don’t go back to the springboard very often, and it’s disconcerting to find some random folder still open from yesterday.

Mark, there’s only one time when I trim my list. That’s when there’s some program *COUGHtomtomCOUGH* that insists on running in the background that you need to stop.


I wish that the implementation of the multitask bar was done differently.  Instead of a single bar or dock you have to scroll through, why not a full home screen sized page with more icons?

Mark Hernandez

@mlvezie…  Yep, you are absolutely right.  The capability is there when there’s something unruly going on and you need an out.  Just like there’s the ability to restart a frozen iPhone by holding down the Home button and the sleep/wake button until the phone goes off.

But you don’t want to start telling people to do something that serves no purpose other than to confuse them and make using the world’s easiest-to-use phone complicated, like trimming your recent list, as if that served some useful purpose.

Apple has stated that the iOS will take care of stopping applications.  The ability to “x” them out in the recents list is a “last resort” method that most people hopefully shouldn’t need know about.  If you want to get to an app you use a lot, use a folder.

The recent list is for bouncing between something you are doing right now.  And it should remain just that simple in people’s minds.

Geeks have a tendency to make things more complicated than they really are, or authors who are trying to think of something to write about on a slow news day.  Simplicity needs to be protected.


All the FUD surrounding the ‘switch to’ list shows it is poorly designed. If I see something in that list, and its a multi-taskable app, I assume it’s taking up system resources. Even if its not draining the battery, if it has its state mothballed, then that is taking up memory. And, if that’s the case and you’re low on memory, then weeding out the list actually could help improve the performance of your phone. Jobs was so snide and dismissive about “task managers”... and then what do they give us, but a task manager with few options and an awkward UI. Way to go Apple.



Once more, with feeling…

1. With the possible exception of specific backgrounding-enabled apps (like music or navigation apps), or Apple’s own apps (which have always been capable of running in the background), the only app actually getting CPU cycles is the currently running app.

2, iOS4-enabled apps can remain in RAM but idle (“mothballed, by your nomenclature”). They will stay there only until the OS needs the RAM, at which point it will kill them.

Just because an app is in the list does NOT mean it’s running or taking up memory. If Apple is guilty of any design flaws, it’s that it doesn’t make that clearer. I don’t know how many among the punditry I’ve heard thinks that the switcher is a task manager, and that any app listed there is consuming resources (either cycles or memory).

The only way to know if an app is really consuming memory is by using a program like iStat.

If you still don’t believe me, I submit this (slightly edited) screen shot I just took. I had to scroll a few pages in the switcher to get it, as I haven’t run those apps in a few hours. It shows 4 apps in the switcher, all of which are iOS4 ready (one, Messages, is even an Apple app!). It also shows iStat’s list of running processes. Note that none of the aforementioned iOS4-enabled apps are either running or in memory. Since running them, the OS has needed the memory for other apps, and has killed them automatically.

If you see something in that list, all you can assume is that at some point it was run. You can’t assume it’s taking up resources. Weeding out the list is unnecessary, as the operating system will do the weeding itself if memory is needed.

I wrote more about iOS4’s “multitasking” on my blog.



I didn’t say they were consuming CPU cycles. I said memory. You agreed with me, but say that the OS will automatically garbage collect when it needs to. Guess what: I don’t trust it. It doesn’t do a good enough job of garbage collecting on the old iPhones. I can’t vouch for the 3GS, but I know on both the original iPhone and the 3G, the devices often get very laggy and unresponsive, and my guess is that its because there are low memory conditions that are being resolved. If you look at the console output of an iPhone its constantly trying to free up memory. I don’t want every app I run to sit there hogging memory until the OS deems it necessary to kill it off. There are plenty of apps I run that I just want to die right then and there when I exit them. I also don’t want them cluttering up my switcher list. Die apps, die.

The apps listed in the task manager very well may be consuming memory if they are multi-tasking aware. That’s why the OS kills them if it needs to free up space. QED. I don’t want them doing that. Hence, I must weed the list.

I very much dislike any UI convention that coerces me to make a mess as I go along. I hate it even more when system performance may suffer as a result. Call me anal, but I want to be able to quit programs. That’s pretty basic. Apple has made it difficult.

As you point out, if you really want to know whats going on you have to resort to 3rd party apps. In other words, they gave us a task manager, just not a very good one.


My suggestion, don’t waste time killing third party apps that the OS will kill for you. Rather, if you’re worried about memory leaks, kill the apps that the OS won’t, like Mail, Safari, Phone, and MusicPlayer.

If there’s a memory leak, it’ll be there. Faiing that, reboot.

other side

They will stay there only until the OS needs the RAM, at which point it will kill them.

Which means Apple has committed the worst of UI sins: you have no idea what’ll happen when you select something.

When I tap on an app icon, will it do that sweet fast launch and go exactly to where I left off, or will it relaunch and start me back a few screens?  Will doing any of that kill other apps, also leaving their behavior unknown?

Bottom line: We just HAD to have multitasking, now it’s here and it sucks.  It’s copy & paste all over again.


It’s better than the alternative - people unwittingly running dozens of apps and crashing their phone. Maybe you and I would never do that, but I know people who would. If they had the ability, they would do it, it would bog down the phone, and they’d blame the phone, not their own use.

I would personally like it if there was some UI way of telling if an app was running, in memory, or not. Failing that, if I really need to know, I can use iStat. But in general, I don’t worry about it. Apps must, when the home button is pressed, be expected to be killed without warning. So they save anything they need to save.

Is this perfect for everyone? No. Is it the best compromise for sophisticated users and others? Absolutely.



You say “Apps must, when the home button is pressed, be expected to be killed without warning.”

This makes me suspect you haven’t played much with iOS 4. When you press the home button now, the current app is suspended, and added to the task list. There is no way to quit apps other than pressing and holding in the task list, and then pressing the x.

This is my biggest problem with the multi-tasking implementation: there is no gestural way to say ‘quit’ and so, your task bar gets populated with every app you’ve ever run, regardless of whether you intend to come back to it, or not.



Before you make statements like that, re-read my earlier comment (especially the screen shot I posted). It proves that just because an app appears in the bottom window doesn’t mean it’s actually in memory.

In fact, I have been playing with iOS4 for just about 3 weeks now (both on an iPhone 3GS and an iPhone 4).

I tried to find an article that describes multitasking very well, but can’t find it at the moment. But what it said is that multitasking-aware (iOS4 ready, if you will) apps will go into a suspended state when the home button is pressed. The OS can kill them at any time if it needs the memory. And apps that have not been updated for iOS4 simply die when the home button is pressed.

Just because an app appears in what you mistakenly call the “task list” doesn’t mean it’s running.

If this doesn’t convince you, then I give up. I can’t use any smaller words.


hmm, can?t stop your iPhone from adding every app you launch to that list, but at least you can trim it down. Great idea!
thanks for the guide how tos.
Actually, Im also looking for an article that describes multitasking and iOS 4 very well, but seems found no one detailed so far, just found some segments like “iOS4: Everything You Need to Know”—just some iOS 4 new features for iPhone users and iOS 4 supported models; “iOS 4 Upgrade Guide: Install iOS 4 on Your iPhone” in iFunia iPhone column.


I found the article I was talking about.


Pfff, jailbreak your phone and install backgrounder. It actually sits on top of and complements the native task management.
It not only lets you override settings per app, but also adds little black and blue badge overlays telling you if an app is natively backgrounded currently (blue), or by backgrounder itself (black).

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