What Is Background App Refresh and How Does It Work?

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What Is Background App Refresh and How Does It Work?

Key Points

  • Background app refresh is a feature that allows apps to update and fetch new information in the background, ensuring that they are always up-to-date when you open them again.
  • It is available on most iPhone, iPad, and Android devices, as well as smartwatches and tablets.
  • While it can use up more battery and data, it saves you time and effort by automatically refreshing apps and keeping your data current.
  • You can customize which apps are allowed to refresh in the background to find a balance between convenience and battery/data usage.

The background app refresh feature is one of the hardest workers on your device. Alas, it gets hardly any credit. This common feature on smartphones and tablets ensures your apps stay up-to-date, even when you’re not actively using them. It’s the reason your social media feed is filled with fresh posts, your weather app delivers the latest forecasts, and your email updates with new messages the moment you open it. But what is it, actually? And how does it work? Allow us to explain it to you, including how to toggle the feature on or off.

Background App Refresh Explained

Woman using smartphone on couch.
While you use one app, your smartphone may be quietly refreshing others simultaneously.

©Ground Picture/Shutterstock.com

Background app refresh is a modern feature of smartphones and tablets. It allows apps to update and fetch new information continually when you’re not actively using them. While you’re off in another app, the previous apps you were using will continue to work quietly in the background. This ensures every app can show you the latest information and relevant updates when you go back and open them again. It saves you the trouble of having to close out of the app and refresh it yourself.

With this feature, social media apps can fetch new posts and place them at the top of your feed. Weather apps can update forecasts and show you the most pertinent information up to the minute. Email apps can refresh to search for new messages so you don’t miss any important alerts. In short, it helps your device be more responsive to the data and info you rely on the most. While it tends to use up more battery and data than you’re used to, its usefulness more than justifies this potential downside. 

While the feature is usually enabled by default, most smart devices give you the option to control which applications are allowed to reload in the background via your device’s settings. This way, you can find a good balance between the convenience of up-to-date information and the risk of depleted data and decreased battery life. After all, not everything needs to be reloaded all the time. Who wants to drain their data limit or battery life by reloading a basic application like Voice Memos or Books in the background?

Devices That Offer Background App Refresh

Man using tablet in library with AirPods and smartwatch.
Most modern tablets, smartphones, and smartwatches refresh apps in the background.

©Stock 4you/Shutterstock.com

Now that you have a solid grasp on what this feature is and how it works, let’s review some popular devices that offer the feature to their users. As you’ll soon see, it’s much more commonplace than you might have realized.

Apple Devices

Background app refresh can be found on most iPhone and iPad devices. Older devices might not be able to support the feature quite as well, but modern iPhones and iPads seamlessly and efficiently provide the feature to users. From banking apps to social media platforms to mobile games, Apple supports this feature for just about every imaginable app in the App Store. Of course, users can customize which applications are allowed to load in the background via the settings.

Android Devices

Likewise, Android phones and tablets also make good use of background app refresh. Similar to iOS, Android allows apps to update themselves silently when not in use. Weather, stocks, news, location-based offers in rewards apps… no matter the reason, Android devices do not let the feature go to waste. Also, like iOS, Android users can manage which apps can perform background updates in the device settings.


Many smartwatches — both Android’s Wear OS and Apple’s watchOS alike — support background app refresh. This feature is particularly useful on smartwatches because it ensures that fitness stats, notifications, and other relevant data on your watch stay up-to-date. No need for manual syncing, which can be a headache on such a small screen. Smartwatch owners can typically customize which applications are granted privileges in their paired device’s settings.

Tablets and eReaders

Most Amazon Kindle e-readers and Android tablets use this feature, too. Perhaps you started reading on one device and want to pick up where you left off on another. Or, say you began listening to an audiobook on a tablet and would like to switch to the e-book version on your Kindle instead. Background app refresh helps you keep your place across your linked devices without you even having to ask.

How to Turn Off Background App Refresh on iPhone

Here’s something else you should know: How to turn off the feature on an iPhone. If you’ve noticed your battery draining faster than usual or don’t want to waste so much data on a feature that only saves you a few seconds of trouble, then you need to know how to toggle this feature. The instructions below should work for iPad’s OS, as well. The process for Android users shouldn’t be too far off from these steps, either.

Step One: Open Settings

Settings app highlighted on iPhone screen.
Open the Settings app to toggle the feature.


First, open up the Settings app on your iPhone.

Step Two: Tap General

General tab highlighted in Settings app on iPhone.
Hit “General” inside the Settings app.


Next, scroll down to the General tab. Tap it once you’ve found it.

Step Three: Select Background App Refresh

Background App Refresh settings on Apple iPhone.
Turn background app refresh on or off using the Settings app.


Last, tap Background App Refresh under the General menu. From here, you can toggle which apps you want to load in the background.

Pros and Cons of Background App Refresh

Pros of Background App RefreshCons of Background App Refresh
Background app refresh makes sure that your apps are always current.Background app refresh can lead to faster battery depletion.
You don’t have to wait for updates when switching between apps.The feature uses mobile data or Wi-Fi to update apps, potentially eating into your data plan.
The feature saves you time and effort by not requiring you to refresh each app manually.Some apps may collect data while refreshing, raising privacy issues if not handled properly.
You can switch between apps without losing context or data.Background app refresh can slow down older devices and affect overall performance.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is background app refresh?

Background app refresh is a feature found on smartphones and tablets that allows apps to update and fetch new information automatically — even when they’re not actively being used. It ensures that when users open an app, they’ll see the most recent data without having to wait for updates.

How do I toggle background app refresh?

You can manage background app refresh settings in your device’s configuration. For iOS devices like iPhones and iPads, navigate to “Settings,” select “General,” and then find “Background App Refresh.” On Android devices, go to “Settings,” tap “Apps & Notifications,” and choose the app you want to configure.

Does background app refresh use data?

Yes, background app refresh relies on mobile data or Wi-Fi to update apps. This can impact your data usage, so it’s important to be aware of the apps using this feature if you have limited data. It can also consume more battery power, especially on older or less powerful devices.

How often do apps refresh in the background?

The frequency of background refresh varies from app to app. Some apps may refresh every minute, while others do so far less often. It all depends on how developers design the app and whether they prioritize real-time updates or occasional ones.

Are there privacy concerns with background app refresh?

Yes, there can be privacy concerns with background app refreshing. Some apps may collect location data or other personal information when refreshing. To protect your data and privacy, review app permissions and privacy settings and grant access only to trusted apps.

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