Under a Gibbous Moon

The Android Task Manager Myth – It just won’t die

by on Dec.30, 2011, under Technology

I’ve written about this topic before and it just won’t go away. To a certain extent I can forgive random forum members and poorly trained sales associates but I cannot forgive a blogger for a major tech site. Jason Perlow from ZDNet  writes:

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.

Of course this is flat out ignorant, as Dianne Hackborn, a Google software engineer explains:

The fact that you can see an application’s process “running” does not mean the application is running or doing anything. It may simply be there because Android needed it at some point, and has decided that it would be best to keep it around in case it needs it again. Likewise, you may leave an application for a little bit and return to it from where you left off, and during that time Android may have needed to get rid of the process for other things.

Of course, there is a limited amount of memory, and to accommodate this Android must decide when to get rid of processes that are not needed. This leads to Android’s process lifecycle, the rules it uses to decide how important each process is and thus the next one that should be dropped. These rules are based on both how important a process is for the user’s current experience, as well as how long it has been since the process was last needed by the user.

The only evidence Mr. Perlow presents is that the existence of this myth is proof of its truth.

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.

Of course there are a lot of popular apps written to kill task on Android but that is because people are constantly (and erroneously) being told that they need them. I remember that when my parents bought their phones that the store rep installed task managers on both phones. When I saw them later I explained to them why it was not necessary and it was just eating up resources for nothing. I uninstalled both apps but later, when they had gone back to the store for something, a rep again installed the app on their phone insisting that it was necessary.

Unfortunately, it is very difficult to fix stupid but such ignorance is unacceptable in people who get paid to write about technology. Readers who are looking to ZDNet looking for information are going to be sorely misled by this article and this myth will be continued by people armed by the authority that the ZDNet logo imparts.

The summary for the article states that, “When it comes to task managment, the developers at Google think they know better than the end-users that are actually using their products.” In actuality, Google designed an OS that does not require end users to have to worry about task management and yet you bitch about it. Try educating yourself about your topic before trying to actually write about it.

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