Using the Application Switcher and Closing Apps When Finished to Maximize Your BlackBerry Efficiency

By Kevin Michaluk on 17 Aug 2009 01:48 pm EDT
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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Reader comments

Using the Application Switcher and Closing Apps When Finished to Maximize Your BlackBerry Efficiency


Is there a hot key or anything that you can press to close an application? Or do you always have to hit the menu button and scroll down to close?

Now if only we could get RIM to use X for exit in the menu to make closing an app even faster without having to scroll down to the 'Close' menu item. Eg, while in an app, hit menu then x to close it. C for close isn't great since sometimes there are multiple C entries and you have to hit multiple times to get to the Close entry. C'mon RIM!!!!!

I guess I use my BB too much because I know exactly how many times I need to press 'C' to close most of my common apps.

on my curve does nothing.
I still have to select switch application from the menu. Been doing it this way since the beginning....great writeup, just wondering why I can't get the hold BB key to work....I need to take the extra step.

which model of Curve? If it's a 83xx series it won't have it (I don't think OS 4.5 will ever get it?!). RIM introduced that function on the Storm's 4.7 os, then phased it on newer versions of OS 4.6. Your native 4.6 os device might not have it (but after upgrading the OS that function will start working). Can't remember exactly what versions they phased it in on though. Make sure you're running the newest OS on your device.

Agreed on the need for a fast consistent way to close apps.

One problem right now is that different applications use different terms for closing an app -- "quit", "exit" etc. This makes it hard to use the same keyboard shortcuts across multiple applications to close an app.

In my experience with the Bold (5 months now), most applications will close using the Esc Key (back button). Except for some downloaded applications like GoogleMaps or AIM.

When i close apps i hold down the back button until it closes itself...better than hitting menu and scrolling to the bottom of the page, and hitting close. Something they probably forgot to say here.

actualy on some apps that won't do it, check ur app switcher if that app is still runing. like ap news needs to be closed thru the menu and hit close.

Why is it when I choose an app from the Switcher and I select "close" to shut it down, it still appears when I go back to App Switcher? This is the reason why I stopped using this a while back. I have the T-Mo 8900.

It keeps your most recently used items in the app switcher. Just because they are there don't mean they are still running.

actually, it keeps the "default" apps in the appswitcher. Email, Browser, Messages, phone will all stay in the appswitcher. You can never clear those.

If you see any other apps besides these still in there, they are still active.

On my Storm, holding the back button down for 2 secs will close most apps. Some static apps like Phone, Browser, Home Screen, BB Messenger and Messages can't be closed. I understand why Home Screen, Messages and Phone can't be closed, but I have trouble seeing why BB Messenger and Browser can't close. Regardless, simply keeping your finger down a little longer on the back button will make a huge difference, and it is MUCH better than hitting the BB Button and scrolling down to close, which is inconveniently located at the bottom of every menu. Also, I have heard that some 3rd party apps don't close this way, but I have yet to find one that doesn't. Close away!

In the early days of owning my Blackberry, I used the BB menu>Switch App method quite often. Now I've assigned it to my left convenience key. However, it dawned on me that I hadn't noticed the option under the BB menu of late, so I checked. It's not there so I experimented a little and found that when I changed my left convenience key to something else, the Switch App option reappeared in my menu. It REALLY is a SMART phone! Didn't know if anyone else had noticed so I thought I'd share! =)

I have been doing this since the first blackberry I ever owned, which was the 8100 pearl. I have always had the left side convenience key set to bring up the app switcher.

I think the App Switcher is really slow. I find it much easier to hit the red Call End key to return to the Home Screen, select my new app via keyboard shortcut, etc...and I've gotten quite quick at it.

For example, to switch from browser to Memo Pad:
Hit "B" to open brower.
Hit End to return to the Home Screen.
Hit "D" to open Memo Pad.
Open a memo.
Copy info from memo pad.
Hit End to return to the Home Screen.
Hit "B" to return to the active browser session (it's still on the page you left it on)
Paste info into browser, etc...

If I had OS 4.6 or so, I might use it with the App Key shortcut, but for now, nah.

Nice write up Kevin. This is one of my favorite things to show newbs along with theme's and homescreen icon clean up.

I do find the app switcher to be faster if you use alt+esc combo, however, holding the BB Menu button down for 2 secs does help in one hand situations.

Perhaps if the "Close" key was at the TOP of the menu, instead of all the waaaaaay at the bottom.. would make it a bit easier and faster to close an app...

holding down the back button on my storm closes applications
holding down the menu key brings up swithch application.

Why is it that some apps, even after being "closed" via the menu option, still appear in the Application Switcher and others do not? Are the ones that still appear still running in the background and consuming resources/battery? An example on my Storm is that the browser and blackberry mesenger still show up in the application switcher even after I close them. Thanks, JMP

It's been my experience that a simple tap of the back button will close most apps (esp. native BB apps) if they are at the apps' main screen. So, when you are in an app, you can either 'back button' until it goes away or hold the back button if you want it to close right away. This is a very simple way to keep all your applications neatly tucked away.

While many Storm owners swear by their nightly reboots, me and my wife have never had to reboot our phones outside the normal service operations (new app or new OS) and never see slowdowns, memory issues, lockups, etc.

Keeping the app list clean should be habit #1 for any productivity-conscious BB owner.

This is the best advice for those using blackberries. I can't tell you how many people come in to the Verizon Store and say my phone suck. Only to find out that they have every application open on the device. So thank you for posting this. Now lets just hope they will read it.

I wish you could at least set one of the convenience keys to close apps. I don't use voice dialing so i'm kinda stuck on what to use it for.

Excellent article once again something new learnt thanx to CB & its contributors. Im on my first BB (a Bold) & im constantly finding out new ways to improve my day to day Blackberry use. Thanx.

Thats Fine feature to use. But there is not need for it to pop up when sending an email,text,Bbbm or mms message. I wish there was a way to turn it off on my storm. Why should it pop up if I hit the berry key when I'm already in the ICON screen.

I think your button sensitivity is too high. Try adjusting options>screen keyboar> Key rate to medium slow (or one down from whatever it's set at now).

as a tech for verizon im glad to see you guys put on article out there like this it makes my job a little easier. the only thing i could add is that there will be icons that will always be available in the switch application even if you have closed it out previously

thanks guys

As a green Blackberry owner, this article was very helpful. This website has helped me find great apps, themes, and even LED colors that now I can run my BB smoother by using the application switcher. Thanks much.

I have the program Epocrates installed on my 9630. it shows up in the app switcher, but when I open it, the menu does not have an option to end or close the app. what to do?

Instead, holding the menu button only gets me to the Home screen if I'm in an app or to the App Selection screen if I'm already at the home screen.

I don't have "Switch Application" choice to select ment in any app menu list, least not with the current theme I'm using.

Note, I'm using the free Carbon theme Dl'd today,...but wait while I change back to one of the AT&T themes. ...Theme change-over completed!

Even with the regular AT&T theme, my Bold acts as it did with the Carbon theme. So, it appears that the Bold, least mine does not present a choice of "Switch Application" whne the menu button is pressed for 2 secs while in an app.

That said, I normally leave nearly all of my regularly used apps open and the Bold just keeps on working (such as, SMS, Email, Browser, Calendar and Address Book). Also, my 1gb of onboard storage is nearly maxxed out and no problems.

Good info all the same,

Have "Bold" will travel,...


I constantly use the Application Switcher, especially when I get a new BBM alert... instead of going into the application list then to applications then clicking on the BBM icon, I just hold down the menu button and BAAAAM I'm there. haha. I know I know, I should put BBM on my home screen but I have no room for it. haha.

I has read about this feature in the manual and never really understood how to use it until I read this. I managed to close a couple open apps and will now use this feature daily. I usually close everything my using the back button, but will make sure apps are closed now! I used to do cust service for att and this info would have been greatly appreciated! It will definitely not go unused though.

So is Google Maps one of the apps that has no "close" because if you close it you won't get updates (like the OPs question about Epocrates)? I can't close it and it always appears in the app switcher.

Although I have had a BB for a year and a half now, I didn't know that I actually had a use for the application switcher. And now I know how to actually close apps! Thanks!!!

i have the blackberry tour 9630 i want to get more smilies for blackberry messenger please help.