Just about everyone I know who has updated to iOS 4.2 and tried out the Multitasking Bar for rapid app switching loves this new feature. I definitely do as well. But .. nearly everyone I talk to about the ‘multitasking’ of apps (which is misused term, but that’s another story) is concerned about how many apps end up running in the Multitasking Bar. They worry about what effect this has on their battery life or even on general performance of their iPad.
From what I can gather about how the Multitasking Bar works, there are a couple of things to note about apps and ‘running’ in the background via the Multitasking Bar (which I’m going to shorten to MT Bar for the rest of this post), such as:
— Very few apps are actually running in the background when you see them listed in the MT Bar. The only ones that are really running (and multitasking) are ones that use one of the very limited set of allowed background services – for example navigation apps or music apps like Pandora Radio – each of which are allowed to have a defined sort of process that can run in the background.
— The vast majority of apps that are shown in the MT Bar are just recently used apps that are ‘resident’ to some extent, but without any truly active process associated with them, but not fully closed. To fully close them you tap and hold on any one of them, wait for the apps to wiggle and show a red minus symbol above each, and tap the minus symbol for the one you want to close.
Given the above, it doesn’t seem like there should be any great general performance hit to the iPad when you have quite a lot of apps showing in the MT bar. It does feel as if there is some impact though, especially if you have several games or multimedia-packing apps left not fully closed – or at least that is my impression. I’ve often found that if an app I’m in starts to act more instable than usual, it will perform better when I remember to shut down (fully close) a handful of potentially resource-hungry apps / games in the MT Bar.
The thing is though, 99.9% of the time I never wanted to accumulate a long line of partly-alive apps in the MT Bar anyway. Since the vast majority of the apps I run (apart from a few good music apps) are not able to do anything useful for me in the background anyway, and they remember where I last left off with them even when fully closed, I don’t need or want them to be partially awake when I move to another app.
Every time I open up the MT Bar and see a weather app, the App Store, the Settings app, Photos app, or any of several games there, it’s a little frustrating – because they’re not doing anything productive for me and I don’t need rapid access to them right then, or even that often.
Also, my impression is that since I first installed iOS 4.2 (way back at the first developer beta) my battery life has suffered a little. Not drastically, but noticeably – and I would guess that this is directly related to having a lot of apps ‘resident’ in whatever way (not fully closed) via the MT Bar. I run a slew of apps every day – partly because I love my iPad and I’m an apps addict, and also because I am almost always reviewing a number of apps as well.
Now I should make clear that for me the trade-off of a bit less battery life for the tremendous productivity gain that rapid app-switching brings is one I am more than happy to accept. But … I can still wish for improvement in this area though.
What’s the point of all my rambling on this? I think Apple should look at a refinement of the way apps and the MT Bar are handled. I’m not a developer and don’t know how easy or hard / possible / not possible this would be – but I would love to see ‘backgrounding’ of apps (to any degree) be an option. An option that gets treated just as push notifications are.
So when I launch Rage HD it will prompt me and ask whether I want to allow it to reside in the background at all. Same with my Weather HD app. And every other 3rd party app. For most of them I’ll say No Thanks, as there no advantage to having them even partially awake and visible in the MT Bar.
Even if it turns out that all these partly-awake apps use just about zero resource or battery power (which I doubt), there are many that I just don’t need to see in the bar. For instance, apps that I already have in my dock, or on my first home screen. I feel content with being able to get to those quickly enough, in most cases. For exceptions, like Things for task management, I could happily say yes when prompted about letting them reside in the MT Bar. Or got to Settings, just as we do with push notifications, and toggle to Yes / On for the apps I do want to be able to rapidly switch to.
What do you all think? Is this a silly idea? Not practical? Would it help if you were able to choose which apps show up or are allowed to reside in the MT Bar? Have you noticed any effect on battery life since updating to 4.2?