iOS: Understanding multitasking

Multitasking is a feature of iOS that allows applications to perform certain tasks in the background while you are using another application. Learn which features use multitasking, how to switch between apps, and how to troubleshoot multitasking.

iOS 7 allows you to switch instantly between apps and to resume an app. When you return to an app, you can pick up right where you left off. Multitasking doesn't slow down the performance of the foreground app or drain battery life unnecessarily.

Follow these steps to switch quickly between apps:

  1. Double-click the Home button to display recently used apps.
  2. Swipe left or right and locate the app you want use.
  3. Tap the app to switch to it.

Multitasking and background-app refresh

Some apps can continue to run for a short period of time and are then set to a suspended state so they are not actively in use, open, or taking up system resources. They will instantly launch when you return to them.

Certain tasks or services can continue to run in the background. To lessen the effect on battery life, normal app background refreshing is scheduled for efficient times, such as when your device is connected to Wi-Fi, plugged into a power source, or being actively used.

You can adjust your apps' background activity in Settings > General > Background App Refresh.

When Background App Refresh is on, apps that take advantage of this feature can refresh themselves in the background. For example, an app can check if new content is available and download the updates, or retrieve the updated content in the background when it receives a push notification, so the new content is ready for viewing when you launch the app. Apps can also schedule background refreshing based on your location. If you force an app to quit by dragging it up from the multitasking display, it won't be able to do its background activities, such as tracking location or responding to VoIP calls, until you relaunch the app.

iOS learns patterns based on your use of the device and tries to predict when an app should be updated in the background. It also learns when the device is typically inactive, such as during the night, to reduce update frequency when the device is not in use.

If you turn off Background App Refresh, no app can update in the background; or you can allow only some apps to update in the background.

Status bar indicators

You can distinguish some of the active background tasks in the status bar:

  • Location Services / GPS: When in use, a location icon appears in the status bar. You may also see a blue, double-height status bar if an app has turn-by-turn navigation on. If an app is using Location Services, such as geofence or turn-by-turn navigation, you may be able to pause the service within the app.

    You can view a list of apps that recently used location services and an explanation of the three location icons in Settings > Privacy > Location Services. Learn more about Maps and turn-by-turn navigation.
  • iTunes syncing: When the syncing icon appears in the status bar, the device is tethered or wirelessly syncing with iTunes.
  • Network activity: When the network-activity icon appears in the status bar, network activity is occurring in the current app. The network-activity indicator will appear only for the following features or activities, when you're using the corresponding app:
    • Photo Stream uploads and downloads
    • Regular application downloads and updates from App Store and Newsstand
    • Automatic downloads (music, books, and applications)
    • iTunes Match downloads
    • Checking email
    • iCloud restores

Third-party apps also use the icon to indicate network activity.

  • Voice over IP (VoIP): A double-height status bar will appear when you leave the primary VoIP app, such as Skype, while still on a call. If you're logged in to a VoIP service, the apps can still receive calls while on background, but won't display the double-height status bar.


Additional Information

If an app doesn't respond to your input, or doesn't perform as expected, do the following, testing after each step:

  1. Check for app updates.
  2. Force the app to close.
  3. Restart your device
  4. Update your iOS device.

Learn more about troubleshooting apps.

For tips on how to optimize your settings for maximum battery life for your iOS device, see the Apple battery page.

Important: Information about products not manufactured by Apple is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute Apple’s recommendation or endorsement. Please contact the vendor for additional information.
Last Modified: Jan 15, 2014
  • Last Modified: Jan 15, 2014
  • Article: HT4211
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