4 ways to take charge of iOS’s Background App Refresh feature

Not that long ago, iOS apps running in the background on your iPhone or iPad were essentially stuck in suspended animation, unable to do anything (besides trigger alerts via Apple’s “push notification” system) until you re-launched them and put them back on your display.

All of that changed a couple of years ago thanks to “Background App Refresh,” a feature introduced with iOS 7 that let third-party apps go out and pull new messages, headlines, status updates, and more from the Internet, even while they’re not actively running on your screen.

Of course, all those apps busily refreshing themselves can put a dent in the battery life of your iPhone or iPad, particularly if you’re not keeping an eye on which apps are doing the refreshing. Here are four ways you can manage this feature.

Find out which apps are refreshing themselves in the background

You might be surprised to learn which of your third-party iOS apps are refreshing themselves. Some of them are obvious: Facebook and Twitter, for example, can silently fetch status updates in the background; meanwhile, Gmail can grab new messages, CNN and New York Times will pull the latest headlines, and Pocket will save articles you’ve bookmarked on the web—and they can all do so whether they’re active on your handset’s screen or not.

Ben Patterson

If you see any apps that you don’t want refreshing themselves in the background, flip the appropriate switch to the “off” position.

That all sounds fairly reasonable, but then there’s Amazon’s shopping app, which can refresh itself in the background, too—and so can OpenTable (the app that lets you make restaurant reservations), iTunes Movie Trailers (the Apple app for watching movie previews), and the Amazon Kindle app.

Now, a case could be made for letting the Kindle app refresh itself (so that, perhaps, it can sync notes and bookmarks from another Kindle reader you recently used), but OpenTable? Seems like a stretch. Or it could be that you don’t feel the need for Facebook to grab new status updates until you launch it yourself.

In any case, it’s wise to check which of your iOS apps are background refresh-enabled, and to turn off the feature for any apps that (to your mind, at least) don’t need to be furiously refreshing themselves.

Tap Settings General Background App Refresh, then scroll down the list of apps. If you see anything that you don’t want refreshing itself in the background, go ahead and flip the appropriate switch to the “off” position.

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