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 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

Background Tasks

Running watchOS Apps in the Background

Schedule and perform background tasks from within your app.

Preparing to Take Your watchOS App’s Snapshot

Use snapshot background tasks to provide a timely, accurate snapshot of your app.

class WKRefreshBackgroundTask

The abstract superclass for WatchKit's other background task classes.

class WKApplicationRefreshBackgroundTask

A background task used to update your app’s state in the background.

class WKURLSessionRefreshBackgroundTask

A background task that helps you respond to URLSession background transfers.

class WKWatchConnectivityRefreshBackgroundTask

A background task used to receive background updates from the Watch Connectivity framework.

class WKSnapshotRefreshBackgroundTask

A background task used to update your app’s user interface in preparation for a snapshot.

class WKIntentDidRunRefreshBackgroundTask

A background task used to update your app after a SiriKit intent runs.

class WKRelevantShortcutRefreshBackgroundTask

A background task used to periodically donate relevant Siri shortcuts.

Background Session Keys

Enable background sessions.