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How to: Quickly Kill Off or Switch to Recently Used Apps [Beginners’ Guide]

android task killer

When the Android team first unveiled Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0), one of the flagship features shown off was a new way to quickly switch between recently used apps or remove those same apps from running. On stock Android devices, or devices that use on-screen navigation keys, the button to access this new app switcher menu looks like two rectangles on top of each other (see image above). On devices like the Galaxy S3 which utilize a physical home button, a simple long press on that button will bring up the same menu. 

In previous versions of Android, a long press on Home popped up a simple app switcher, however, it lacked much functionality or design flair. In the newest versions (Android 4.0+), you can see thumbnails of your recently used apps that show you a preview of where you last left off. A simple tap on the thumbnail then jumps you into the app, again, exactly where you last left it.

On the flip side, you can kill off apps just as easily as you would switch to them, thanks to a new swiping gesture. If you would no longer like to see an app appear in your recently used app list, touch your finger to it and swipe it off the screen to either the left or right. Not only does this remove the app from showing up in your list, it also kills the app from continuing to run in a position that you last left it. Should you need to open a killed app again, you’ll notice that it opens from a fresh spot.

android task killer2

Instructions (killing recent apps):

1.  From any screen tap the app switcher button (the double rectangles).
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.
6. If you continue to swipe apps away until they are gone, you’ll be left with the screen on the left.

On most Samsung devices, a long-press of the physical home button will bring you the same recently used apps menu. Swiping them off the screen will also kill them off, but you will likely see a trash can button in the bottom right corner as well. Should you press that, all of your recently apps will be removed.

On most HTC devices released in the last year, there is an app switcher button, however, the recently used app list looks much different. The apps tend to show up as 3D cards that can are viewed through a horizontal menu. If you would like to remove a single app from appearing, a swipe up on the card will do the trick.

Most Motorola devices released in the last year have the standard Android task switcher button.

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  • brando56894

    I wish there was a way to limit the amount of apps in the list.

  • Tom Z

    Thank you for the info. The only thing I ever used that button for was to switch to a previous app. I didn’t know about the swipe, etc.

  • TheOiulkj

    “6. If you continue to swipe apps away until they are gone, you’ll be left with the screen on the left.”

    …your other left.

  • it would be nice to have a kill all button

    • Mack

      Do you have a phone that can run a custom ROM? CM10.1 has a kill all button.

    • LionStone


  • Manthas

    “6. If you continue to swipe apps away until they are gone, you’ll be left with the screen on the left.”

    I believe you mean, “… screen on the right.” 🙂

  • BSweetness

    As others have mentioned, this is a little misleading. Removing an app from the recently used apps list doesn’t necessarily kill it. It will kill some, but not others. It’s not intended to be used as a task killer, just a way to quickly access recently used apps.

    • Simon Belmont

      It kills the foreground process of the app. If there is an associated background service, it will not be killed.

      For example, an email client’s foreground process can be killed (it’ll reload completely if you open the app again). However, the background service that monitors for new email, or what have you, continues to run unaffected. I like swiping away recently used apps if I know I won’t be needing them again for a while, and to just reduce clutter in the task switcher. My apps I KNOW I’ll be using again soon or that I multitask to often I keep in the task switcher, unless I REALLY want to start fresh and swipe everything away. It’s nice having the choice. Android really is about choice.

  • Scott

    I have to be honest, I didn’t know that swiping them out of the way killed the app. Now if only Android would stop allowing apps to start up again on their own.

    • EdLessard

      That’s because it doesn’t kill it. It simply removes it from the list.

      • Simon Belmont

        It actually does kill the foreground process. If you swipe away the Browser for example, it will completely reload it if you tap its icon again.

        The background services that apps use are NOT killed though. So, you don’t have to worry about not receiving tweets, for example, if you swipe away your Twitter client.

      • Scott

        It doesn’t kill Words with Friends, that’s certain. Thankfully Carbon Rom gives me the option of a “Kill App” button in my navigation bar. 🙂

  • Akashshr

    It really never kills the app, Android Task killer m/

  • ceejw

    It’s worth noting that in many custom roms there is a “kill all” button at the top right of the recent apps screen.

    • Mack

      Yup, just like the clear all button in the notification pull-down. One of my favorite parts of CM.

    • Simon Belmont

      Yeah, CyanogenMod 10 and 10.1 have this. I like using that occasionally if I really want to start fresh.

      Most of the time, though, I just leave my most used apps in the task switcher. I swipe away apps I only needed for a little bit.

  • Bob G

    I love this feature, but most times my OCD kicks in and keeps clearing out all the recent apps thus making the whole other usage of it useless 🙁