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Phone makers are still killing your apps and Google isn't doing anything to fix it

Oneplus 8 Pro
Oneplus 8 Pro (Image credit: Daniel Bader / Android Central)

Managing a huge smartphone platform like Android is tough, so sometimes the managers need to get tough. There are a lot of ways this can fit into any words about Android, but one that's especially bad if you're a developer is that companies like OnePlus, Huawei, Samsung, and Xiaomi build phones with software that can randomly kill any app that's not on a list of apps that get special treatment.

I wrote about this 18 months ago and said that Google needed to find a way to get this fixed. I'm saying the same thing now, even though the prospects of it actually happening any time soon are slim.

If I sound disappointed, it's because I am. Google participated in a Reddit AMA and the top question was about this very issue. That's because for any developer who isn't working on any of the top handful of apps in Google Play is seeing Android phones from the top manufacturers shutting down their apps indiscriminately as some sort of half-baked add-on to Android's power management system.

Google is aware of the issue. In the AMA, the team responded:

Background kills is a complicated topic that our team has been working on for a while - it doesn't help that each manufacturer does it differently. We feel the developer community's pain and are committed to solving it. We've been in discussions with many device manufacturers to understand the reasoning behind their implementations, not just to preserve battery life, but also to protect users from misbehaving apps. At the same time, we've been working to move them away from using extreme methods such as app force-stop which renders the app unusable for users.

I feel where Google is coming from. There is certainly the potential for abuse if an app can go running in the background all willy-nilly, but what about apps like fitness trackers or messenger clients? When someone buys a shiny new OnePlus 8 and installs a free app, when the app doesn't work they tap the old one-star review and uninstall it. But sometimes, it's not the app developer's fault.

The top ten offenders

Source: dontkillmyapp (Image credit: Source: dontkillmyapp)

The folks at DontKillMyApp.com have been fighting the good fight against this for a while. The group of developers rate phone manufacturers based on how often their software closes apps for no reason other than a vague promise of longer battery life. Our friends at Android Police dove really deep into this very subject earlier in the week.

This is not the same thing Android itself does and not every manufacturer gets a queue of thumbs down, but a look at the ratings shows that the biggest offenders are also the biggest phone makers.

Google is trying, but it needs to try harder.

Google says it's trying. It says that Android 11's licensing agreements will force manufacturers to tell users that their phone is closing apps, but most users are going to trust Samsung and think the app sucks. "Top apps" won't be allowed to be placed on any sort of list, but there are millions of apps that aren't "top apps" and some of them are the best apps. There is a new API that will tell a developer why their app was terminated, but that won't stop it from happening. This isn't good enough and while Google has the tough task of sorting it all out, it really does need to be sorted out.

Smartphones are a part of daily life for almost everyone. Phone manufacturers are playing fast and loose with software changes and it's almost turning our smartphones into dumbphones.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Jerry Hildenbrand

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.

13 Comments
  • Question: If a company is not listed here, it means they are not known for doing this? I didn't know Wico was a phone company!
  • Hmm then why is Huawai known to have the best battery due to this? It's my phone why should some app decided it can just run? I like that I can prevent an app running when I'm not explicitly using it.
  • I use OnePlus but I generally don't want notifications from any apps except Google apps, mostly Gmail.
    There are a few exceptions like Facebook messenger and a few banking apps, but changing the power profile to don't optimize has always been enough to resolve the issue for me. Most of the time, I don't even need to do that. It might be because they are top rated apps with tons of installs. But whatever it is I'm glad this doesn't affect my usage. It sounds like a PITA!
  • The problem is Android power management sucks against iOS, as leaving apps open on Android leads to ridiculous high battery drain and that's the case too with apps closed but not as much as it is when apps are left open. I prefer Apple's power management over Android's, ok looking forward to that fantastic standby time that Apple's always been known for on the iPhone.
  • Things have balanced out in recent years. iOS still has better standby times than most Androids, but the difference is not huge like it used to be. I can do 5 days on 1 charge if I'm careful. The biggest difference in battery life is hard usage. Have a head to head gaming battle and the iPhone will drain quickly. Speakerphone use does the same. On the flip side, iPhone battery life while filming video is much better than on the Androids I use. I'll have to check during the next shoot, but I think the iPhone used about 18% and my HTC used about 25%.
  • One of the biggest battery drains for me I'd video calling on my OnePlus 7T which can take as much as 30-40% of my battery but to be fair, standby times on my OnePlus 7T have improved since I got my phone which at the time was terrible and I'd lose as much as 15% of my battery overnight and again, OnePlus doesn't really kill apps in the background, at least I don't think it's as much as OEMs and the only app that gets killed is the Mirror app which is an online newspaper app in the UK, Chrome occasionally gets reloaded but not as much as the Mirror app, though and about,5 years ago Android just flat out killed all apps in the background which which was super annoying. Anyway I'll be interested to know the battery drain numbers between your iPhone and HTC in your next shoot.
  • Your idea of getting the battery drain numbers sounded like a fun project, so I did that this afternoon. The results were different than I expected, as I know the iPhone 7 kicked the U12's butt in video battery life pretty much all the time before. I think the difference was shooting outdoors this time. Indoors, the iPhone uses a normal screen brightness, while the HTC turns it up. It's good for visibility, but burns battery. Outdoors, BOTH screens are bright and burning battery, and I think that's what turned the tables. The iPhone 6S Plus was the clear winner this time. I did the test with 5 phones at the same time, each of them with WiFi off, screen brightness set to automatic, video recording set to 1080p at 30fps, and the battery beginning at 87%. Percent of battery used for 30 minutes on each phone is below. iPhone 5S: 11%
    iPhone 7: 28%
    HTC U12+: 25%
    iPhone 6S+: 11%
    HTC M8: 19% Oh, and this is a photo of the setup (right click, open in new tab):
    https://photos.app.goo.gl/8VAzdf5aQ6cx7DsQ6
  • Perhaps you can persuade the reviewers at Android Central to include the results of the DontKillMyApp app (or similar) when they evaluate a device for a product review. It's the omission of benchmarks like these in reviews that permit the OEMs to get away with degraded products. I don't know how long the app has been available but I don't see it mentioned in the POCO M2 Pro review or the LG Stylo 6 review.
  • The problem isn't apps being killed. The real problem is not being able to kill apps. PLEASE give me a way really clean apps from my phone and tablet.
  • Personally I don't have issue with this, if they would give you options for it in nice and easy to configure manner, instead of going on app killing spree, often even ignoring settings or settings are hidden so deep or labeled poorly, that you get very little influence over it. Just give me option to either enable or disable app killing and option to check or uncheck which apps to kill. That would pretty much fix the issue. I really dislike whole modern "we know better than our users" attitude, to justify not giving choice or making it harder than necessary to change settings. I appreciate the concern, but also think they can shove their opinion on the best way up where sun doesn't shine and let me do what I want, even if this means short battery life.
  • The thing is OEMs hold all the power on the Android side and Google is too scared.tp stand up to them as Google doesn't want to piss off its OEM partners because Google needs them more than they need Google.
  • The tragedy of the commons in full swing. The battery juice is the commons, and a very precious one at that, and the apps are the farmers putting their cows out to graze. So, after a free-for-all system which naturally failed (resulting in a half-day battery life for most devices), now OEMs switched to favouritism (which is how the tragedy of the commons is usually fixed in real life). If Google and OEMs come to a fair solution to the problem, I 'd very much like to hear it.
  • Best way to prevent this is to disable adaptive battery, which you can in Android 10(+?).