Playing Background Audio

Enable background audio in your app to provide a seamless playback experience.


While most watchOS apps are optimized for quick interactions, apps that play audio content should continue playing even after the user lowers their wrists or navigates to a new app. Your app needs to play audio in the background in order to provide this seamless playback experience.

To play background audio:

  1. Enable the Audio Background Mode.

  2. Configure and Activate the audio session.

  3. Start playing.

Enable the Audio Background Mode

First, you must enable the Audio Background Mode capability for your WatchKit extension, as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1

Enabling the Audio Background Mode

A screenshot showing the Audio Background mode in your WatchKit extension’s Capabilities pane.

This step sets the UIBackgroundModes key in your extension’s Info.plist file.

Configure and Activate the Audio Session

Before you can play audio, you need to set up and activate the audio session.

Start by setting the session’s category to playback, and the route policy to AVAudioSession.RouteSharingPolicy.longForm.

                        mode: .default,
                        policy: .longForm,
                        options: [])

Next, activate the session, by calling the activate(options:completionHandler:) method.

session.activate(options: []) { (success, error) in
    // Check for an error and play audio.

This method sets up the audio route asynchronously before activating your session. watchOS requires a Bluetooth audio route for long-form audio. If necessary, the system presents an audio route picker to the user, letting them choose the Bluetooth route (see Figure 2).

Figure 2

Audio route picker

A screenshot of the audio rout picker, showing two different Bluetooth headphones.

In general, if the user has previously selected a Bluetooth route or if AirPods or other W1-equipped Bluetooth headphones are nearby, the system picks the audio route automatically without displaying a picker view to the user. If no applicable Bluetooth route is selected (either automatically or by the user), the system passes an error to the completion handler.

Start Playing

The activate(options:completionHandler:) method calls its completion handler as soon as a Bluetooth route is selected or when an error occurs. Check for errors in the completion handler. If no errors occurred, you can begin playing your audio content.

The code listing below shows all the steps needed to set up the session, activate it, and begin playing.

// Set up the session.
let session = AVAudioSession.sharedInstance()

do {
    try session.setCategory(AVAudioSession.Category.playback,
                            mode: .default,
                            policy: .longForm,
                            options: [])
} catch let error {
    fatalError("*** Unable to set up the audio session: \(error.localizedDescription) ***")

// Set up the player.
let player: AVAudioPlayer
do {
    player = try AVAudioPlayer(data: audioData)
} catch let error {
    print("*** Unable to set up the audio player: \(error.localizedDescription) ***")
    // Handle the error here.

// Activate and request the route.
session.activate(options: []) { (success, error) in
    guard error == nil else {
        print("*** An error occurred: \(error!.localizedDescription) ***")
        // Handle the error here.
    // Play the audio file.

See Also


Adding a Now Playing View

Let users control the currently playing audio in your app.

class WKInterfaceVolumeControl

An interface element that lets users control the audio volume from the watch or a paired iPhone.

class WKAudioFilePlayer

An object that controls playback of a single audio item.

class WKAudioFileQueuePlayer

An object that controls playback of one or more audio items.

class WKAudioFilePlayerItem

An object that manages the presentation state of an audio file while it is being played.

class WKAudioFileAsset

An object that stores a reference to an audio file and provides metadata information about that file.

property list key PUICAutoLaunchAudioOptOut

A Boolean value indicating whether a watchOS app should opt out of automatically launching when its companion iOS app starts playing audio content.

Name: Opt out of Auto-launch Audio App (Watch)