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I'm a fairly new user of Android and i'm annoyed by the fact that almost all apps lack a "close" button.

Is there any reason why developers don't make such an option?

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Why do you need it? That's what the "Home" button is for. –  Charles Boyung May 25 '11 at 13:43
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yeah, that only hides the app, i want to close it. –  Adrian May 25 '11 at 14:09
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I'm still confused - why do you want to close it? The device manages memory itself so it shuts down the oldest running apps when it needs to. –  Charles Boyung May 25 '11 at 14:22
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To save battery usage maybe? I'm not sure, I do not have an Android, although I do have an iPod Touch and when you leave multiple applications open it drains the battery much faster. –  Matt Rockwell May 25 '11 at 14:50
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Agree with @Adrian... coming from a desktop background, I want more control over my apps. Memory is too limited on a small device. When I'm done with an app I want to be able to free up the memory immediately. The fact that the device manages memory and invisibly shuts down the oldest apps is not very discoverable. It's a mysterious UX (in a bad sense). Users have been trained for years to close down programs when done, and the UI that lacks that feature leaves us wondering, when I press the home button is it still running?? –  LarsH May 25 '11 at 20:59

11 Answers 11

up vote 24 down vote accepted

The major mobile touch screen operating systems (iOS, Windows Phone 7, Android) don't trouble the user with "closing" applications in the way that desktop applications do. This simplifies the experience, making applications appear seamlessly built into the operating system.

Typically, applications on these operating systems will "pause" when the user returns to another application or the home screen, using no CPU time but remaining "asleep" in memory. If the current application needs more memory, the operating system closes down the least used application, freeing up memory that can be used by the foreground application.

The answer is: you simply don't need to close applications manually on modern mobile operating systems.

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This is the correct answer, although it can take some getting used to when moving from desktop to mobile. I guess the reason is that on desktop, we were used to the fact that apps in the background can and do consume noticeable amount of CPU. At first I suspected same on mobile and didn't like the lack of control. As I found out, you'll get a much smoother user experience if you just let the OS do what its designed to do. –  Kevin May 26 '11 at 11:19
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Apple even disapproves the app (it won't appear in the App Store) if the app has a close button. –  rightføld Jun 1 '11 at 18:01
    
It isn't needed on desktop operating systems either. Both have modern memory management. You have even seen the slow killing of Save on Mac OS because that happens automatically in most applications now as well. –  Mark Sloan Mar 11 at 0:14
    
Also note that on Mac OS X, there is now a feature that basically does the same thing than on the mobiles (when an app isn't used or when a tab is hided, the system reduces its access to the CPU and of course if the app really needs some power to work in the background it can ask it to the system). –  Trevör Anne Denise Jun 8 at 18:28

Closing iPhone applications from within the app itself goes against Apple guidelines, so most developers would not take this route for fear of the app being rejected from the App store. Quitting from within the app "looks like a crash to the user." (Apple's words, not mine).

There's a question on StackOverflow about this issue.

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This is true, but the question was about Android applications, not Apple. –  Nick Bedford May 25 '11 at 22:57
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Not really. The title is 'Why don't mobile apps have a 'close' button?'. He wasn't specifically looking for Android answers, and people searching UX.SE would see the title of the question, so I posted an answer that is relevant to the question. Not sure providing an accurate answer deserves a downvote, but hey. –  JonW May 26 '11 at 7:50
    
Also, since Android is... well... you know... copied from iOS, it follows the same basic principles. –  Bart Gijssens Mar 11 at 7:15

Personally, if I were to develop an Android app I wouldn't include a close button either. As others previously mentioned, it's too easy to accidentally hit the close button inadvertently.

What I would do, is include a close/quit command as an option that comes up when the user hits the Menu button. It just feels like it should be a menu option instead of a UI element IMO anyhow.

I think it's important to include a close/quit function in an app to try and save on battery life and increase available memory for other apps that the user is actually using.

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the few apps that have a close option pop it when you hit menu, that's fine by me, it doesn't need to be intrusive. –  Adrian May 26 '11 at 14:48
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The thing is it won't save battery life in the majority of cases. The only case where it will really save battery life is if the application has a long running background service, in which case the answer isn't a close button, it's a resigned of the application to not have a long running service. –  matto1990 May 30 '11 at 10:42
    
Would the downvoter care to comment? –  Jason Towne Jun 9 at 16:05

Honestly, I don't think the answer to this is UX related. It certainly can't be related to the size of the 'close' button being too small-- tablets are plenty big and don't have close buttons either.

I think the answer is just system resources. Mobile devices are slow, and it's a lot easier to switch between apps if they stay open in memory.

If you're a Mac user, you'll also be disappointed to know that the next Mac OS X (Lion) is reported to have this 'feature' as well-- the OS will determine when and which applications should be closed.

On a personal level, I'm totally with you. Any power user needs to be able to close apps on demand.

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With tiny little touchscreens and fingers typically bigger than the touch points and touch points normally too close together for said fingers, it would probably be far too easy to accidentally tap the close button when you intended to do something else.

The only way that would work would be to have enough space around the close button where there isn't any other action that you would try to tap and accidentally hit close. And doing this (again, on small touchscreens) would waste way too much space in the application for a function that is handled natively by the device. This is similar to wasting space on a web application for a "Back" button only much worse because your available space is much smaller.

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It's because of the way Android is designed.

The operating system manages the memory in a very different way to the way it's done on a desktop computer. The same goes for CPU.

When you don't have an application on the screen (in the foreground) it no longer takes up any CPU. That is because unlike with desktop applications the OS knows that you can't be using it, so why bother keeping it running.

At this point the memory it was using will still be allocated to it. However, if the operating system needs more memory for when you open a different application it will archive the memory that the older application used (not exactly, but you get the idea). This then frees up enough memory for other applications to run with no slow down.

If you then relaunch the application which had its memory archived the OS the has the option to unarchive that memory and start the application exactly how the user left it. Again, this isn't 100% accurate but you get the idea.

Essentially if you navigate away from an application it is no longer running. It doesn't use any CPU and the memory it uses will be aggressively cleared whenever the OS needs it. Therefore you will see extremely minimal battery life gain by closing an application.

The exception to this is when applications make use of services. Services are separate from the bit of the application that you see (the UI). The application has the option to keep these running when the foreground application closes. They are designed to be short lived and shouldn't be open for long before they finish themselves.

In the case of services it is possible to gain battery life by closing them, however only very badly designed applications should have services that run with no foreground application and drain the battery life. In this case the answer isn't a close button, it's to design the service better.

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You have turn off buttons for certain apps, especially the ones that should run in the background.

The principle of hiding and not shutting down is borrowed from Mac OSX where it helps the loading time. Though the app is not using the processor while hidden, it starts instantly when you open it. I guess that for Android this also helps since the apps you use more often are running already.

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It's not really a Mac OSX thing - Windows and Linux both could do this with applications (and many did) long before OSX came around. –  Charles Boyung May 25 '11 at 16:14

Typically, unless the phone has multi-tasking, the app either closes or goes into a sleeping state when you hit the home key. WinPhone7 does this much to my annoyance.

On a Nokia, if you hold down the home button it pops up a list of the open apps and you can then close the ones you don't want to keep open.

On an iPhone (and presumably an iPod) if you double-click the home button it does the same thing.

I haven't tried Android but I'd imagine they have something similar.

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The reason why mobile apps don't have a "close" button, is because there is no need for it.
All mobile devices are built with a button that fullfills the role of "closing" an app. For those that don't, the OS provides a replacement interface.

The problem with mobile devices (excluding notebooks/laptops), is that they come with a touchscreen instead of a keyboard or a mouse. Because of that, every interactive element has to be large enough for the user to touch it without accidentally touching something else.
Implementing a "close" button would therefore mean losing a lot of screen real-estate, especially considering that closing, minimizing or suspending an app needs to be doable at any time; nobody would want to navigate to a specific part of an app, just to be able leave said app - especially when it just crashed.

To avoid having apps waste screen real-estate, mobile devices feature a couple of system buttons.

  • iOS devices have the "Home" button, with which apps can be suspended. Double clicking the button will display the application switcher, from where you can close every suspended or running app. The "Home" button therefore effectively replaces the "close" and "minimize" buttons.

  • Android offers a "Home", a "Back", and an "Apps" button. The "Home" button suspends the current app, and the "Apps" button reveals the application switcher. You can also suspend an app using the "Back" button, if the app can't go back any further, or with the "Apps" button, if you touch anywhere on the screen except on an app.

  • Windows Phone offers a "Home"1, a "Back", and a "Search" button. The application switcher is accessed by keeping the "Back" button pressed; the "Search" button simply opens a "Bing" app. Aside from that, the buttons behave similarly to those on Android, except that if you press the "Windows" while on the "start" screen, you will switch back to your previously active app. Also, the "Back" button does not suspend the app, it actually closes it2.

  • Windows RT offers a "Home"1 button. That button behaves the same as on Windows Phone3.

Naturally, this opens the question: Why not make closing an app obvious? Why waste the little memory available on mobile devices?

The truth is: the memory isn't exactly wasted. As long as there is enough memory left, there is no need to free more. As soon as more memory is needed, however, the system will automatically close a suspended app.


1: Officially called "Windows" button.

2: As of Windows Phone 8; according to rumors, Windows Phone 8.1 will change the behavior of the "Back" button to match Android's.

3: As of Windows Phone 8; according to rumors, Windows Phone 8.1 will have a long press action.

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So, all answers here are explaining the theory quite nicely, but are overlooking two important things (or one essentially):

Android Ice Cream Sandwich:

enter image description here

Drag 'app' (well technically it's not the app, but lets not get into that) to the right or left to kill. Additionally I believed Samsung provided their own task manager even in older versions of Android.

Apple iOS:

enter image description here

Hit minus sign to kill app.

The point:

On both Android and iOS a mechanism has been build to quit apps. No matter the far greater memory and CPU management background apps do have an effect on your phone/tablet. It's smaller than on desktops and if you're not running any huge apps you won't notice, but my main point is just that it's not as simple and one sided as the other answers spelled out.

Close buttons

Either way, including close buttons inside apps themselves still makes little sense, just like some modern desktop apps rely on the OS to provide to UI to close an app (the window's close button or similar interfaces) removing it from their own menus (mind you, this is a minor trend, not even a major trend). to provide the

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most apps, games and some text editor, really closes themselves whenever i hit the home button, so I cant came back to work with them again. I th a close app option will let the system know if I really want to keep that particular app open in a suspended state, and dont force to use that allocated memory even if I open another app, I'd rather preffer the system ask me for memory so I know if I need to close some other apps or services other than that particular app I was using. For example, jetpack joyride closes if I press home button, even if its paused.

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Welcome to ux.stackexchange.com. Your answer is not very clear and involves a few typos. It seems to be based on subjective opinion rather than research or reasonable argument. Any chance you try to improve it? –  Izhaki Mar 11 at 1:44

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