App Killing: Less Sexy Than It Sounds, but Sometimes Useful

Back in my day, when we got our Android phones, the sales person would install an App Killer program for you before handing you the phone. Typically they’d install Advanced Task Killer (a popular, free market app). This is because earlier versions of the operating system and/or phones did not handle memory usage as well as phones of today. Unlike your computer, Android phones do pretty well with high memory usage–the bottle neck for performance on your phone is typically your CPU. But in the early days, management of memory was not handled terribly well, the Android Market–now Google Play–was a lot more like the Wild Wild West, and it was a pretty good idea to have an App Killer on hand in the event any programs went rogue and took your phone with it.

When you activate an app on your phone, it opens some memory for the app and dedicates some CPU to it while its active. When you leave that app (possibly assuming you closed it), you actually leave it in memory so Android can bring it back for you at any point in the future faster and more easily (and without having to hammer the CPU). When too much memory is being, used, Android, itself, starts shutting down (or “killing”) programs in memory. In the earlier versions of Android and some earlier Android phones, this process was not optimal, to say the least, so external programs to help with the process were required.

Modern phones, however, do this a lot better, as do the latest versions of Android. However, programs going rogue is still possible today. While you can use excellent security on your phone to prevent your information being stolen or viruses being installed, mobile security doesn’t cover bad coding. A program constantly calling for Wifi when Wifi is not enabled is going to tie up memory and possibly CPU usage, leading to a very slow phone experience with other programs. This, however, is a lot rarer than many app killer programs would have you believe.

Using app killers, it’s actually possible that this will worsen your phone’s performance and/or battery life. When manually killing apps all the time or telling the task killer to aggressively remove apps from your memory, you’re actually using CPU cycles when you otherwise wouldn’t.  Some of those apps (because they integral to the functioning of the phone) may well start back up, further sucking up CPU. In a worst case scenario, you could kill apps or portions of apps that actually do things you want them to do on your phone; like looking at the open processes on your computer and “killing” some of them at random could do everything from disable programs to reboot your computer to blue screen of death (for the windows crowd).

Because App Killers can cause a lot more problems than they often solve, a lot of folks who develop for Android refuse to look at bugs or issues that come up on devices running App Killers.

So what are you going to do when that one program has gone rogue?

You’re going to use the Jellybean in-system method of viewing, killing, or uninstalling your apps.

1.  From any screen tap the app switcher button or hold the home button down.
2.  A list of your recently used apps should appear.
3.  To remove one, touch and hold on the app while swiping it off the screen.
4.  You can also long-press on the app and tell it to “Remove from list.”
5.  You can also long-press and enter “App info” to uninstall an app or stop it completely.

I like using #5 when I’m testing out newly downloaded apps, btw. New game have a ton of adverts or bugs in it? Just long press, select the app from the list, click App Info and uninstall…no having to find it on your long list of applications in the  Manage Applications list under Settings.

There you have it. App Killers have their place, but its mostly in the past. Android and Android phones have come a long way since they’ve needed additional help managing the applications in memory. But, if you ever do need to kick a persnickety program out, you can do it with the feature already in Jellybean, no killer App Killer download required.

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