Dear Google: Android's Multitasking Sucks

Dear Google: Android's Multitasking Sucks

Summary: When it comes to task managment, the developers at Google think they know better than the end-users that are actually using their products.

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I've been using my Verizon Galaxy Nexus since launch day -- just under two weeks.

While I happen to feel that Google's Android Ice Cream Sandwich (version 4.0) on the Galaxy Nexus is a significant improvement over previous versions of the OS that I've encountered on various Android devices that I've used in the last two years, one thing has not changed or improved whatsoever: the abyssmal way that multitasking is presented to the end-user.

Why is it awful? Well, let's start with the basics. In Android, as you start an application, its services will continue to run in the background when you start more apps.

Provided that an application is well-written, only a stub of that app continues to run, such as GMail's message poller or perhaps a Twitter client's notifier service.

But plenty of apps still commit a significant amount of resources to memory even when you stop using them or start a new process.

Which they really shouldn't.

If these are left unchecked, your Android device's performance and stability goes straight to hell.

What's the common fix to this issue? Well, an entire cottage industry of developers have written various task killer/task managment and memory optimization utilities for Android, which can be used with a single click of a button to wipe apps and services out of memory.

One such app, called "Advanced Task Killer" (by developer ReChild) is on the top of the charts for most popular applications on both the Google Android Market and Amazon's Appstore for Android.

Shouldn't this really be a function that's built into the OS? Shouldn't the end-user have quick visibility into what programs are bogging down the system and then kill them appropriately?

I'd think this should be the case, but for some reason, Google keeps ignoring this with every successive software release and in many cases task managment has to be "value added" into the handset or the tablet by the device OEM.

Samsung, for example, wrote some pretty nice task managment software for the original 7" Galaxy Tab, and has incorporated it into many of their devices they've released since.

In Android 4.0, at least as how it is presented on the Galaxy Nexus, the task killer UI is actually buried deep in the Settings under "Applications" on a separate tab for "Running" and it takes several clicks to get to.

This should actually be accessible directly from the home screen, and it isn't.

By comparison, in Apple's iOS 5, all running programs that are either cached or have active processes can be accessed by a simple double push of the main action button and can be scrolled through and stopped quickly with a simple tap of the finger on a little "x" symbol.

While not the commercial success of either Android or Apple's iOS, both HP's webOS 3 used in the dearly departed TouchPad as well as RIM's QNX-based PlayBook tablet OS have even better multitasking methods -- you just swipe up to show all the running processes and literally "flick" the program out of memory with a swipe of your finger.

There's really no such equivalent to this type of task managment in Android. Instead, the Android evangelists at Google will tell you just to trust Ice Cream Sandwich's automated memory management and everything just sorts itself out.

You know what? I think they're full of crap, because we don't live in a perfect world where all apps behave reasonably and release resources like they are supposed to.

Well, let me clarify myself here. In Honeycomb and Ice Cream Sandwich, there is the new "Recently Accessed" soft button (the double rectangle symbol) which shows Apps you used recently and you can scroll through them to launch those apps.

But that doesn't actually reflect what is still running. And you can't kill processes with it. You can only remove stuff from the recently accessed list.

Now, maybe I'm spoiled by how it works on my iPad in iOS 5, but to me the "Recently Accessed" soft button in Honeycomb/Ice Cream Sandwich is essentially useless and wasted screen real estate.

I mean, most people who use Android devices tend to group their favorite apps on the different pages of the Launcher screen, so they have quick access to them anyway. I'm not sure what "Recently Accessed" actually gets you, to be perfectly blunt.

It would be much better if the double rectangle soft button was actually a full-blown task manager, that showed you a graphical representation of programs and processes and allowed you to kill them as necessary.

And maybe it's just me but I'm also really pissed off that you now need to chew up Launcher real estate with a dedicated widget that that's a link to the Android Settings pages, rather than having it being one of the soft buttons.

It would seem to make sense to me that the double rectangle could allow you to jump right into settings as well as present a task manager, but I guess the developers at Google think they know better than the end-users that are actually using their products.

Does Android's lack of decent built-in task management drive you up the wall? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Mobile OS, Android, Google, Hardware, Mobility, Security, Smartphones

About

Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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166 comments
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  • Playbook OS, QNX to the rescue

    Maybe google should buy RIMM and ditch Android ;-)
    wizec
    • RE: Dear Google: Android's Multitasking Sucks

      @sagec

      Why? It does end tasks... google "ics kill task". First video link shows how easy it is. Don't think much research was done for this article.
      spam733t
      • RE: Dear Google: Android's Multitasking Sucks

        @spam733t

        That doesn't kill tasks, only removes the recent apps. But there is NO NEED to kill apps in ICS anyways. No task killer is needed.
        cjones1130
      • RE: Dear Google: Android's Multitasking Sucks

        Obviously the readers of this column know more than the authors. I believe it would be appropriate for the writers to apologize to their readers for disseminating incorrect information.
        Juggler77
      • @cjones1130

        Agree. I believe in Android's task management capabilities.
        15israellai
    • A rant about how you can't manage processes in Android...

      @sagec
      ... and it took me all of 30 seconds to figure out how to do it, and make it quickly available. Add a shortcut to the desktop for Manage Applications. Click on it. Click the Running tab. Viola! It's a shame too, because I actually like some of Mr. Perlow's articles. He's just dead wrong on this one.
      jasonp@...
    • RE: Dear Google: Android's Multitasking Sucks

      @sagec This article is a total waste. All it takes is 5 seconds to add a shortcut to your home screen on "Manage Applications". So whenever you want, one click and you are in the Running Tab to remove whatever you want to your hearts content. The article and the author is just dead wrong on this one....
      larryvand
      • Dear Jason Perlow, this article stinks......

        @larryvand

        would have been a better title. Users don't use a phone as a multitasking computer. They make calls, text, surf the net, etc.... Trying to multitask applications at the same time is beyond the abilities of the average user, and they would not care anyway.

        Almost every smartphone cleans up memory when needed, the so called task killers would not be needed anyway. Why do you think they put memory in the phone??/ It's there to be USED!!! Not to sit empty!!!

        Maybe Jason Perlow needs to find something different to do with his time.
        linux for me
      • RE: Dear Google: Android's Multitasking Sucks

        @larryvand
        Most users don't know what a shortcut is or how to use it. Your solution is for nerds and hackers, not users who care about the user experience...
        prof123
  • RE: Dear Google: Android's Multitasking Sucks

    You said: [i]"the developers at Google think they know better than the end-users that are actually using their products"[/i].. Aren't you doing the exact same thing? Personally I prefer the way Android currently does it. It suits my needs, it might not be best for everyone, but neither is your solution. That is why there are different platforms, each with its different implementation.
    rnh16
    • RE: Dear Google: Android's Multitasking Sucks

      @rnh16 <br>The way webOS does it is the right way for everyone.
      x I'm tc
      • RE: Dear Google: Android's Multitasking Sucks

        @jdakula There is nothing to fix. ICS has a task killer that is easily accessible. Only ignorant people who know nothing about Android say otherwise... and I have to wonder about their motivations to wrongly do so...
        larryvand
      • RE: Dear Google: Android's Multitasking Sucks

        @larryvand

        But webOS' approach is better still.

        As for my motivations, I'd like to see the ideas that webOS got so right find their way into "living" OSes. Now that it's to be open sourced, maybe they will!
        x I'm tc
  • RE: Dear Google: Android's Multitasking Sucks

    @root12

    Nothing to fix in this case. It already has a task killer. The author just isn't aware of it I guess.
    spam733t
    • RE: Dear Google: Android's Multitasking Sucks

      @spam733t
      Other smartphone OS's make this feature easy...WP7 doesn't even require an app to be closed properly and never runs out of memory and performance is never affected.
      kstap
    • RE: Dear Google: Android's Multitasking Sucks

      @kris_stapley

      This is because there is [i]no[/i] multitasking on WP7. I have WP7 and other than the garbage email client this is the single biggest problem with the OS.
      x I'm tc
    • RE: Dear Google: Android's Multitasking Sucks

      @jdakula
      Yes it does, since the Mango update which I think all WP7 phones are now running. You just hold down the Back button and up comes the task manager.
      A.Sinic
    • RE: Dear Google: Android's Multitasking Sucks

      @sA.Sinic
      Holding down the back button brings up a list of the most recent places visited, yes (oftentimes, these are various points within the same app). This is [i]not[/i] multitasking. This is app switching. Multitasking is when I can have my radio app streaming audio, only to pause briefly while the GPS interrupts it with a turn announcement before resuming, [i]while I am writing an email[/i] (my wife likes to drive). I could do this just fine on my Palm Pre and on my Nokia E71 before that. I can do this on an Android device today.

      On my Arrive (running WP), as soon as the GPS software chirps, the audio app stops...forever! I can't even run an egg-timer app on my phone and navigate to something else during the 8:30 while my egg is boiling and still get a reminder. In other words, there is [i]no multitasking[/i] on WP -- 7.5 included.
      x I'm tc
    • RE: Dear Google: Android's Multitasking Sucks

      @ jdakula
      Let's get it right. I use my WP7.5 egg timer frequently, my radio, etc., and the phone multitasks. My egg timer keeps going when I'm in another app. If yours doesn't you're using a pre-mango timer. Depends on the software and the level of multitasking required. I find it ironic that one of the key features of the OLD Windows Mobile was true multitasking - it was one of the things about the phone that, ultimately, caused problems and contributed to its abandonment. Because of the variety of hardware that the OS ran on, coupled with the bloatware, app killing became a part time hobby. This should sound familiar to Android enthusiasts - my wife is an Android user and spends far too much time killing apps. Android has tried to remedy this by pumping up the hardware specs, but the deployment of software simply outpaces the hardware and they're encountering what the old Windows Mobile encountered so many years ago. WP and iOS have arrived at similar solutions to the same problem, and their solutions works admirably.
      Vabraxys
  • RE: Dear Google: Android's Multitasking Sucks

    @root12 Let's get something straight...WP7 does NOT have true multitasking. iPOS 3/4/5 does NOT have true multitasking. Android DOES. And it has a simple, and effective way to kill tasks to your hearts content. All it take is 5 sec in putting a shortcut on your home screen of "Manage Applications". End of story. And even a 2 year old can do that.
    larryvand