What Is Background App Refresh on an iPhone and iPad?

What does background app refresh mean and what does this feature do? Here's how it works on iPhone and iPad

By Kevin Shaw - Editor
4 Min Read

Background app refresh is an important feature on an iPhone and iPad. If you’ve seen this feature on your device settings and aren’t sure what it means, we’re here to explain.

Let’s look at what background app refresh means, what it does for you, and why you may want to enable or disable this.

What is Background App Refresh on iPhone or iPad?

Background app refresh is a feature of iOS and iPadOS that allows apps to update their content from the internet, even while you’re not using them.

What Does Background App Refresh Do on an iPhone or iPad?

Background App Refresh on iPhone and iPad enables an app to stay up to date and get data even while you are not using it. But what does background app refresh actually do? Here are some examples of the actions it handles without you having to manually check:

  • News apps fetch the latest headlines so they’re updated when you launch them
  • Apps that track your mobile data usage collect information in the background
  • Cloud storage services sync your files automatically
  • Shopping apps detect that you’re at a store and prepare the latest digital coupons
  • Social media apps preload the latest posts so you don’t have to wait for them upon opening

Advantages of enabling Background App Refresh on an iPhone or iPad

Background App Refresh lets apps stay up to date

When you force close an app on your iPhone or iPad, you aren’t really shutting it down. With Background App Refresh enabled, it’s more like you’re letting the app idle — it’s using less power but still picking up data from the internet and delivering notifications.

This is why apps start again so quickly when you open them, and how they send you notifications hours after you closed them. Background App Refresh lets the apps stay up to date by refreshing their information in the background.

I find Background App Refresh really useful for certain apps. For social media apps like Facebook, Instagram, and X, it keeps the feed updated so I see the latest posts right away. For email apps like Gmail or Outlook, it ensures I get my emails as soon as they arrive. I also keep it enabled for my news apps so I’m always up-to-date with the latest headlines. For fitness apps like MyFitnessPal, it helps keep my data synced across devices.

Some other ways that apps might use Background App Refresh include:

  • Google Maps asking how crowded your subway ride was
  • The Weather app notifying you if it’s going to rain soon
  • Airbnb recommending vacation spots in a town you’re driving through

Even though you’re not actively using them, the apps still track location data and send you notifications from the background.

Note: If you quit an app from the app switcher, it might not be able to run or check for new content before you open it again.

Background App Refresh makes switching between apps convenient — but it also comes with a downside.

Disadvantages of enabling Background App Refresh on an iPhone or iPad

Background App Refresh takes up battery

Every process on your iPhone or iPad takes battery power to run. This is true even when they’re running in the background.

Although suspended apps running through Background App Refresh don’t take up as much power, they can still run down your battery if you have a lot of them open. In general, the more notifications an app is sending you, the more power it needs to run in the background.

If you want quick multitasking and app updates, this is a necessary trade-off. But if you don’t care about that convenience, you can extend your battery life by disabling Background App Refresh.

Background App Refresh takes up Cellular Data

Some apps may use a lot of data in the background while fetching updates from the web, so if you’re on a limited data plan, background app refresh can result in extra charges on your bill. This is a problem if you’re trying to reduce your mobile data usage. If this is applicable to you, you may want to select Wi-Fi option in Background App Refresh settings as explained below.

How to turn Background App Refresh on and off

There are generally two ways to turn off Background App Refresh: Either all at once, or only for individual apps. You can do both through the same menu.

1. Open the Settings app on your iPhone or iPad.

2. Go into General.

3. Tap on Background App Refresh. . You’ll see a list of every app that currently has permission to run in the background.

4. To turn off Background App Refresh for every app, tap the option at the top of the screen. You’ll be given three options:

  • Wi-Fi & Cellular Data lets Background App Refresh run whenever you’re connected to the internet
  • Wi-Fi only updates apps if you’re connected to Wi-Fi — this means it’ll never use your mobile data
  • Off disables the feature, stopping apps from updating in the background

And if you only want to disable it for certain apps, just find that app in the list and tap the switch next to it. When it’s switched to the left, the app can’t update.

Background App Refresh is Grayed Out?

Sometimes you may find that Background App Refresh is grayed out and disabled in iPhone or iPad settings, preventing you from managing this option.

This may be due to one of the following reasons:

  • Screen Time settings: Background App Activities may be restricted. Go to Settings > Screen Time > Content & Privacy Restrictions and then make sure Background App Activities is set to Allow. If asked, enter your Screen Time password to make changes.

  • Low Power Mode: When you enable Low Power Mode on your iPhone or iPad, Background App Refresh settings will be disabled. You can go to Settings > Battery to turn off Low Power Mode. When you disable Low Power Mode, Background App Refresh setting will become active again.

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By Kevin Shaw Editor
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Kevin Shaw is a seasoned tech journalist based in Los Angeles with a penchant for all things Apple. He started writing about Apple products in 2007 and it's been a love affair ever since. He has spent over a decade testing and writing about iPhones, iPads, Macs, and other Apple products. In his spare time, he likes nothing more than catching up with the latest news and sports podcasts on the beach.
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