It's time to kill the Task Killers.


One of the longest running arguments in the Android community is whether or not to use a “task killer” on your phone. Some say there are performance benefits, be it speed or battery life, and some say they do more damage then good and ruin the Android experience. So here we go, guys. Like any good writer, I have done the research, performed my own tests, and am here to give you a definitive answer on the mess. In case you missed the title, let’s go over it again.

It is time to kill the Task Killers.

The task killer is a concept from the early days of Android. Android 1.5 and 1.6 had a series of issues managing tasks. It turns out the guys from Google expected app developers to handle things like trash collection, resource management, or the ability to not run when it hasn’t been used in awhile. This space made room for the task killer. Being Linux based, the concept was initially similar in nature to killing a task in, say, Ubuntu. The app would show you the app and the resources it used, and in a single click it was whisked away, returning those resources to the pot for the next app to gobble up. My G1 and my wife’s Cliq suffered severely from the lack of memory, and a simple task killer would often times be helpful in a pinch. These programs increased in popularity, and new, more ridiculous features would be bolted on, like a widget that would wipe out all active tasks on a click, with little or no information about what you were actually killing. It appeared for a brief moment that the task killer would become a staple of Android, and that saddened me. Fortunately, a new dawn rose, and with it came Android 2.0, 2.0.1, 2.1, and eventually 2.2.

When Android entered the 2’s, they brought along a built in task manager to the party. Not a task killer per se, though the force close function was there. This application surved a higher purpose in allowing you to see what was being used, and allow you to see what resources were being spent. I uninstalled my task killer and never looked back. Clearly this was the way to go from this point on. I expected the task killers to die out and become unused applications, but to my surprise these applications were not only still in use, but carriers were recommending that certain task killers be used to improve battery life. There are those of the Android community who could see the damage being done by these apps. Take Cyanogen for example, who on several occasions has expressed his disdain for these apps, saying that they “break your system, and any performance increase is a placebo unless you have a misbehaving app” when trying to fix bugs within CyanogenMod. He’s not alone by a long shot either. Dianne Hackborne, and Android engineer has been quoted across the blogosphere with “Applications may seem present to the user without an actual process currently running the app; multiple applications may share processes, or one application may make use of multiple processes depending on its needs; the process(es) of an application may be kept around by Android even when that application is not actively doing something”.

These applications do a lot more than just end the program. Apps are not isolated in their own little walled gardens in Android. Resources and processes that can be shared, are. Plain and simple, they are not necessary anymore. The native management system is capable of handling any need you may have to deal with a rogue app. Still, I can hardly expect everyone to take what I am saying as gospel. After all, you’ve been doing this for awhile, or you know that it helps your phone, or your mechanized owl told you to use one, or whatever of the thousand answers I have already heard. You know what? I’ll make this easy. I’ll respond to them now.

But Russell, TouchWiz has a “bloatware” task killer on the Fascinate and the Epic! – No it doesn’t. TouchWiz simply has a link to the same management system everyone else uses when you long press the home screen. It’s a “TouchWiz improved” task manager, that does the exact same thing.

My battery life goes to crap every time I don’t use one. – Bull. What’s more likely is that you go a day without using it, but you still keep the task killer installed. Well kids, guess what never turns off and is always “watching your tasks”? No silly, it’s not your Mommy, it’s your task killer. Uninstall the task killer for a week, and you will see the difference. Oh, and for you pseudo-modders out there, check your battery stats while you are at it.

I only use it for apps that don’t turn themselves off – You are my favorite, because this sounds perfectly reasonable to anyone who doesn’t know how Android handles apps. Please direct your attention to the graph to your right, and you will clearly see that Android’s built in task handler will kill an app on it’s own if it’s necessary. It may not happen as fast as you would like, and note that I say like and not need, but it does a perfectly good job of it.

And so that about sums it up. The remaining percentage of you are probably either running a poorly sewn together mod or something that was copied from CyanogenMod and the fiddled with until it “looked cool”, but I will save the script kiddie rant for another time!

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