Understanding Multitasking on iOS & How to Use it Effectively

Multitasking Explained1

If you are a new iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch owner then you might not be familiar with multitasking. Perhaps even if you have already owned your iPhone, iPad or other iOS device for a while you might not know that there is an easy way to access all you applications without having to navigate through several home screens or losing any of your progress.

As Apple’s website puts it: “Multitasking allows applications to perform specific tasks in the background while you are using another application”

When it comes to smartphones, multitasking tends to be trickier, since they have smaller batteries and need to be unplugged longer than computers. However, the multitasking function on the iPhone, iPad and other iOS devices has been optimized to have minimal impact on battery life while at the same time preserving intact your “place” in the applications you leave in the background.

Let’s see how multitasking works using a game as an example:

Step 1: While in an app (Angry Birds Space in this case) double tap on the Home button. This will display the multitasking tray that shows your most recently accessed apps. You can scroll through them by swiping left or right (notice the big, green bird flying at the left of the screen, this is where you left the app).

1 App In Multitasking
1 App In Multitasking Copy

Step 2: Tap on any other app that you want to use (Rechner calculator in this case). Use it and then double click on the Home button once more to expose the multitasking tray again. You will notice that Angry Birds Space, the game I was just using, is at the leftmost part of the tray. Tap on it.

Rechner Multitasking
Rechner 11

Step 3: As you see, not only has multitasking returned me to the exact moment when I exited from it (notice the big, green bird is still at the left) but it has also paused the game for me so I can take my time to resume playing.

Angry Birds Resuming

Other Multitasking Variations

It is also worth mentioning that when in the multitasking tray, if you press and hold on any of the app icons, they will display a “-” sign at their top left. When you press this tiny sing, they will disappear from the multitasking tray and the next time you open them, they will open from their home screen instead of opening from where you left them.

Multitasking Minus

Now, while this is the conventional way in which multitasking works on iOS, there are some apps that use it differently. In almost all these cases, you will see different small activity indicators in the status bar at the top of the screen.

Location Services / GPS: When you use applications like Maps and exit them, you will see an arrow tip at the top right of the screen that indicates that the app is still actively pointing your location in the background.


Media playback: You will see the “Playback” icon when listening to music and exiting the Music app. This indicates that media playback continues in the background.


iTunes sync: When you are syncing your iPhone, iPad or other iOS device with your computer, you will see this icon (left) in the status bar.


Network: If you see this moving icon in the status bar, it means that network activity is taking place, such as when you check for email for example.


Additionally, some VoIP apps like Skype that allow you to make calls over Wi-Fi also make use of multitasking when you put them in the background. In this case the multitasking indicator at the top of the screen doubles its height and turns to a bright color.

Skype Background

Now that you understand multitasking better, use it to have a faster and smoother experience with your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch. Enjoy!

Last updated on 03 February, 2022

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