Mobile app users are killers, but not in the common sense of the word.

When a user is “done” using an app (bear in mind that “done” can mean a few different things), they have two ways that they can essentially exit the app. One is by sending the app to the background of the phone. The second option is by “killing” the app (force quitting).

Today we are going to dissect the latter; the crime scene of killed apps. Killing an app might seem like a very straightforward, basic action, but there can be more behind the murder than meets the eye.


Motive #1: App Not Responsive

app killed because not responsive

Imagine that your user is exploring your app or completing a certain task, and all of sudden your app becomes unresponsive. No matter where your user taps, there is no physical reaction from the application. In order to “unfreeze” the app, the user assumes that the best course of action is a forced restart. They double-tap the home button on their iPhone or hit the multitasking key on Android and swipe. This method usually works to unfreeze the app yet it does not come without its consequences. Maybe the user was in the middle of editing a photo or researching a hotel, and they have to lose all their progress in order to re-start. This can add friction to your app’s user experience and weaken retention if it happens recurrently. However, it doesn’t mean that nothing can be done about it.

Protip: Try using a mobile app analytics platform that tracks when a user kills an app. App analytics tools, like Appsee, can track app kills. Appsee provides you with the capability to filter session recordings by ‘App Not Responding’ and ‘Killed Sessions’ so that you can assess whether there is a high correlation between the two. Appsee, can also track the sequence of user events within an app session before the user chose to kill the app.

appsee killed app tracking
Example of filter capabilities within Appsee.


Motive #2: Fear of Battery Drainage

kill apps to save battery

Many users think that if their apps are not running in the background then their battery is in great shape. This conclusion is actually incorrect.

As Wired noted in an article from 2016, both Apple and Google have actually confirmed that closing apps doesn’t really help improve battery life.

“On both Android and iOS, algorithms run memory management. They’ll close apps that need to be closed, typically ones that have been dormant for a while or are using more power or memory than they should. And they’re very good at knowing when you’re going to need data, or want a refresh, or open an app again.”

Considering today’s smartphones’ multitasking capabilities, users are actually better off allowing the system to work for them than forcing it to re-open and re-start constantly.

That being said, this notion is not going to stop users from killing apps, especially if they are GPS and/or transportation apps. This ties into the next user motive.


Motive #3: Pure Habit

app killed because of habit

For many users, there’s something truly cathartic about swiping out of all their app’s in the background. Just as the majority of users strive for “inbox zero”, there can also be this cleansing, fulfilling element to the action of clearing background apps.

All gratification sentiments aside, killing apps can simply be a behavioral flow that a user has become accustomed to. For example, a kid with their first smartphone (yes a kid), who has observed their parent or more technically apt friend perform said action and thus acquired the behavior.

Interestingly with the disappearance of the ‘Home Button’ in the new iPhone X, users will need to adjust to entirely new method of force quitting apps. Will users adapt flawlessly or will we see less app killings in the coming year? Even the tiniest of user behavior flows can require practice to modify.  


Motive #4: Frustrated or Confused

confused users kills app

Maybe an app’s payment form is confusing or a certain in-app pop up is frustrating a user. If these user emotions are strong enough, they can spur a user to kill a mobile app. Don’t forget that users’ standards for mobile apps are higher than ever before.  

So, how can you identify these trigger points? Circling back to our protip, you can also utilize Appsee to pinpoint whether there is a certain screen or function that is often accessed right before a user kills your app. This flow correlation can serve as a powerful alert to potential usability issues within your app.


So as you can see, some app killings can be voluntary while others can be completely involuntary. Luckily, when they happen to be the former, there are tools at your disposal to help you uncover their cause(s) and subsequently improve your app’s user experience.

To try user session recordings on your own app and improve your retention, you can grab a free trial with Appsee now:

Appsee free trial



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