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How to Run more than one Android App - Multitasking

What is Multitasking ? It is the ability to run more than one program at the same time. This is very common on PCs and larger computer systems, but with smartphones and tablets it is more of a challenge since the processor and storage resources are limited. Moreover, a typical smartphone or tablet only shows one program at a time in a full-screen window, so why would you want to multi-task ? Actually there are several reasons, as these examples show:

  • You may do one thing, e.g. browse the web, when you suddenly get interrupted by a phone call. So you want to answer that call and then get back to where you were with your web surfing, at the same spot.
  • You probably want to have your Gmail, Facebook and Twitter accounts checked in the background on at regular intervals without you having to trigger each check.
  • You want to listen to streamed music (e.g. Spotify or Pandora) while you use any other app, without having Spotify to run in the foreground at all times.
  • You are entering an appointment in your calendar. You have already entered some info when you need to look up some information in an SMS that you have. So you open up your Messaging app, look up the info you are after and then go back to the calendar. Of course you expect all the info you already entered to still be there, without having to start all over again!
  • Your apps may need to get updates in bulk, you naturally expect that to happen automatically in the background

Android doesn't want users to worry about closing their apps, but rather make it appear that all of the applications are always running. That's why you can't find the familiar X mark in the top right corner which you have in e.g. Windows, to close the app. Android is fairly unique in the ways it allows multiple applications to run at the same time. Applications that are no longer visible to the user are suspended, remaining in memory but without event handling or processing. If this background app needs processing, it requires a "service" - which is a separate small application that runs without a user interface, doing things like completing a file upload on behalf of the suspended app. Another conclusion of this is: Don't use so-called Task Killers! Let Android handle the management of apps for you.

The last paragraph above was quite technical, but don't worry, it is very easy for you, the user! This is how it works: You normally start any app through its icon on a home-screen, the App Dock or the Add Drawer. If you're in the middle of that app and whats to start a new you hit the Home button and select the next app, and so on. After awhile you may have a few running. Then it's very easy to go back to a previous apps using Android's multitasking, which is actually called Recent Apps.

If you have a device without a Menu button (all tablets and most new Android 4 phones) the you'll have a dedicated button for Recent Apps:

The left screen below shows such an example, you tap the bottom right button which is for Recent Apps, then you will get an actual thumb-nail of those apps. You can dismiss any by sweeping the thumb-nail to the left or right (but it's doesn't kill the app, just removes it from the list to avoid clutter). You tap the one you want to go back to.

If you have a device with a Menu button (all old phones with Android 2.3 and some newer with Android 4) then you long-press the Home button. Then you'll get the screen to the right, which shows the icons of the recent apps, that is, not thumb-nails on how they looked like when you were running them. Again, you just tap the icon for the app you want to return to.

Android 4 Android 2.3