Android 12 Aggressively Limits Background Apps But Is It A Good Thing?

Android Doll
Even though they are fundamentally similar devices, we use smartphones and PCs in completely different ways. It's not uncommon to have dozens or even hundreds of processes running in the background on a PC, and that's fine, because you are probably doing things in a bunch of applications concurrently. On a phone, multi-tasking is a lot harder, and a lot less common. You're generally only interacting with one or maybe two apps at a time.

For that reason, we suspect most Android users don't realize that their phones are already doing quite a bit to curtail naughty applications, which simply leave child processes spinning needlessly in the background. Android 12 is taking things a step further with its indicatively-named Phantom Process Killer. Put simply, this is an Android 12 feature that monitors all of the system's background child processes and will start killing them if the amount goes over a certain number—32, by default.

That 32-process number is system-wide, not per-app, meaning that by default, Android 12 only allows users to have 32 "phantom" processes, period. That's probably not a problem for most users, though. Google defines a "phantom" process as a child process of an application running in the background. 32 phantom processes is quite a lax limit for the usual Android user, and even heavy users of their device are unlikely to suffer serious issues from this new feature.

Indeed, it's possible that the Phantom Process Killer could improve performance and battery life on some Android devices. Given the breadth of hardware that runs Android, it's no surprise that applications sometimes bug out or crash and have their child processes get stuck spinning in a loop. Most users don't restart their phones all too often, either, so some folks with a lot of apps installed may see improved responsiveness and battery life from this change.

Termux terminal emulator for Android.

This news comes to us courtesy of the xda-developers blog, although the Phantom Process Killer was first discovered by developers on the Android terminal emulator Termux. Android famously runs on top of Linux, and surprising as it may be, some folks actually use Android devices as full Linux systems. One such developer (known as "agnostic-apollo" on Github), responding to complaints from Termux users, dug into the Android Open Source Project's code and found the new feature.

In the comments on the xda-developers blog post, that same developer remarks that power users struggling against the feature can disable it with an ADB command...

adb command

We wouldn't recommend this for most users, though—especially if you're not already well-familiar with ADB. We won't get into how to setup and use ADB here, but if you should need to neuter the Phantom Process Killer, there it is.