BlackBerry Application Switcher Tips

This is article is for all the new BlackBerry owners out there...  It's pretty easy to pick up a BlackBerry for the first time and start using it. Scroll (or tap) to where you want to go, hit the menu key (the one with the little dots/seeds) for options and you're on your way - within a few minutes you're sending emails, browsing websites, setting your alarm clock, playing songs, booking appointments, adding contacts, and before you know it you're installing third party apps so you can facebook, twitter, stream music, play games and whatever else you want to do. As you start to learn BlackBerry shortcuts, arrange your homescreen icons and dial in your device settings (set convenience keys, tweak your trackball/trackpad/screen sensitivity) you go from simply using your BlackBerry to using it effectively.

One of the critical things to getting the most out of the BlackBerry experience that I find most new users I bump into are not aware of is the built-in Application Switcher and the fact that hitting the end key (red hang-up call phone button) does not close apps, but rather puts them in the background and brings you back to your homescreen. Closing apps when you're finished with them and taking advantage of the Application Switcher on a regular basis will greatly enhance your BlackBerry efficiency. Read on for the details!

The Application Switcher

Like your desktop computer, the BlackBerry is a multi-tasking machine. That means that even though you work on only one application at a time, other applications can be open and active but are sitting in the background. On the BlackBerry, this tends to be both a good and bad thing. It's great for things like instant messaging applications, where you can be typing out an email and in the background you still have BlackBerry Messenger, AIM, MSN, Google Talk, etc. keeping you online and active. Where it's bad is that because you only effectively use one app at a time, many people neglect to close applications that they no longer want to use, which means they are hogging your device's memory to no benefit. If you never close your apps and leave them open all the time, you may find your device start to slow down a bit.

BlackBerry Application Switcher

The Application Switcher allows you to jump between your open applications. Many BlackBerry users tend to exit to the homescreen (hit the red end key) then click/tap the icon of the next app they want to go to. If the app you are going to is already open, there's no need to relaunch it - you can often get to it quicker by evoking the Application Switcher. Launching the Application Switcher places a ribbon of icons on the middle of your display (screen capture at the top of this article), layered on top of whatever other app you may have open. Within the Application Switcher, you can scroll between your open apps and select any one you want to jump to. There are four basic ways to launch the Application Switcher:

Alt + Escape (back key): This is the least intuitive way to launch the Application Switcher, but it's a shortcut that RIM has had built into the operating system for a long time. If you hold down the alt key and then hit the back button (to the right of the trackball/trackpad) the Application Switcher will launch.

Hold Down on the Menu Key: This feature debuted on the BlackBerry Storm and has now made it's way into newer versions of OS 4.6 and 4.7. Instead of just tapping the menu key to bring up the options menu, hold down on it for an extra moment. This will launch the Application Switcher. It's not totally intuitive, but it makes sense. The menu key is a bunch of dots... the Application Switcher contains a bunch of apps - it's all good!

Set a Convenience Key: Before the invention of the method above, many BlackBerry users set one of their convenience keys to launch the Application Switcher (including myself). There's less of a need to do this now, but if you're using an older device that doesn't have the long-press menu function built in, then you may want to do this. 

Within an App, Within the Options Menu: Within an application, you can typically hit the menu key, scroll down a bit, and you will find an option for Switch Application. Selecting this will launch the Application Switcher. 

Learning to use the application switcher will allow you to speed up the process of jumping between open applications on your BlackBerry, as well as letting you know what apps are open and running on your device.

Closing BlackBerry Applications Properly

Application Switcher

Now that you know (thanks to the Application switcher) what apps are open and running on your device, you should get in the habit of closing any apps that you are not/don't plan on using. As stated above, hitting the red end key and exiting to the homescreen doesn't actually close an app. It leaves it running on the background and accessible via the Application Switcher. To close an app, you need to hit the menu key, scroll down to the bottom and select Close. Conversely, if you're on the first screen of an app you can use the back/escape key to back out to the homescreen (not guaranteed to work in every app). That's it. Once closed, an app won't be available from the Application Switcher, but you will be able to launch it again from the homescreen.

Just do it!

That's all there is to it. You'll find if you get in the habbit of using the Application Switcher and closing unused apps that your overall BlackBerry experience will be enhanced. You'll be much less likely to bog down your device with a ton of apps running in the background, and you'll jump back and forth quicker between the apps you do have in use. In the future, I hope to see RIM further improve upon its multi-tasking capabilities. More memory dedicated to open applications would ensure you never experience a bog down, even if all your apps or open. I'd also like a more "visual" form of multi-tasking. One of the innovations I really like that was introduced by Palm in their new Web OS is the use of cards. It's very easy to see what apps are open, jump between them, and close them. RIM has the same functionality in the BlackBerry OS, it's just a little more buried. 

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