iPhone and iPad

How to Update Your iPhone: iOS, Apps, and Data Backups

Ben Stegner Updated 18-09-2018

If you need to update your iPhone, you’ve come to the right place.


Like everything on iOS, keeping your iPhone up to date is pretty simple. You have a few ways to back up your phone and apps, depending on how you prefer to work with your iPhone. We’ll show you what you need, especially when it’s time to update iOS.

Before You Begin: Clean Up and Back Up

Now is a good time to clean old files off your iPhone. This will help your backup and update installation complete more quickly.

You can find low-hanging fruit by visiting Settings > General > iPhone Storage. Here, your phone will recommend a few actions to clear a large amount of space in a short time. Check out our guide to managing your iPhone’s storage How to Manage the Storage on Your iPhone Need a few tips on how to manage storage on your iPhone? We'll show you how to access and clean up photos, contacts, and more. Read More for more details on how to clear up photo, app, and other clutter.

Before you make any changes, you need a backup. There are two ways to back up your iPhone: using iCloud or iTunes. Neither is perfect, but they are easy to perform.

1. Backing Up via iCloud

Unless you’ve paid for more iCloud storage Is It Finally Time to Buy More iCloud Storage? Now that iCloud storage costs considerably less than it used to, it might be time to upgrade beyond 5GB. Read More , backing up your phone to iCloud is not a viable option for most people. Apple only provides 5GB of free iCloud space, which is likely far less than what’s on your phone.


Check out the iCloud pricing page for a breakdown. You can get 50GB for $1/month, 200GB for $3/month, or 2TB for $10/month. You can also share the larger two plans with family members, which is one of the best uses for extra iCloud storage 6 Nifty Uses for Spare iCloud Storage Have more iCloud space than you know what to do with? Here are several great ways to get more out of iCloud. Read More .

To turn on iCloud backup, open Settings on your iPhone. Tap on your name at the top to open your account management, then select iCloud. At the bottom of the Apps Using iCloud section, tap iCloud Backup.

Toggle the slider to enable it; a popup will warn you that your phone will no longer automatically sync with iTunes. After that, tap Back Up Now. A progress bar shows, telling you how long you have to wait.


Once that completes, you can move onto the next steps. If you’ve already turned on iCloud backups in the past, you can tap Back Up Now to make sure iCloud has the latest copy of your data before moving on.

2. Backing Up to Your Computer

Backing up to your computer does not require much setup. If you’re a Windows user, you’ll need to use iTunes to back up. On macOS Catalina and newer, iTunes is no longer around. Instead, open Finder and click your device name under Locations on the left sidebar for a similar interface.

Plug your phone into your computer, and launch iTunes or Finder. If this is your first time connecting this device, you’ll need to accept a prompt on your phone to trust the computer and enter your passcode.

In iTunes, wait for the device button to show up in the toolbar (in the top-left next to the Music dropdown). Select that button to go to the main device page in iTunes (you may need to click your phone’s name at the top too). The second table on the device page is Backups.


On a Mac, all the backup options are under the General tab. You have two options for automatic backup: iCloud and This computer. Select This computer to ensure that your iPhone backs up every time you plug it in.


If you check the option Sync with this iPhone over Wi-Fi in the Options table below, your phone will back up whenever it’s plugged in. If you want your backup to include all your passwords and accounts, you need to select Encrypt iPhone backup and set a password for it. This an extra step, but saves you time if you ever need to restore your phone.

Click Sync at the bottom of the window if you need to transfer data to or from your phone How to Transfer Music, PDFs, and Other Files From Mac to iPhone Apple doesn't always make it easy to get things like PDFs, videos, or iWork files from your Mac to your iPhone. Here's what you need to know. Read More ; otherwise just click Back Up Now. (If you’ve made any changes to the settings on your iPhone, you need to click Sync to update them.)


Over-the-Air vs. Wired Updates

Deciding whether to apply an update on your iPhone, or to use iTunes, depends on a few factors. The first and most vexing is having enough free space on your phone to update. While you can free up space on your iPhone iPhone Storage Full? How to Create Free Space on iOS The "iPhone Storage Full" message hits us when we least expect it. Here are the ways to free up storage space on an iPhone. Read More to make room, it’s often a lot easier to use iTunes instead.

There are some other catches. Your phone won’t even start downloading the update unless you connect to Wi-Fi. Plus, your battery level must be over 50 percent, or iOS asks you connect to power before updating.

Updating over-the-air (OTA) with your iPhone is convenient, but is still an “in-place” upgrade. If you’ve had any weird performance issues, you should probably install the full OS via iTunes. An OTA update installs only the changes.

In general: iTunes updates are more work, but have the least amount of restrictions. Updating iOS from your iPhone is easier, but has stricter requirements.

Updating on Your iPhone

Installing an update within iOS is a simple process. Open the Settings app and select General > Software Update. You’ll see the details of the update on the next screen.

If your phone has not automatically downloaded the update, tap Download and Install. This shows Install Now instead if it’s already downloaded. A dialog will appear asking you to confirm by tapping Install once more.

Should you keep getting errors about verifying the update, you may need to re-download it. You can remove the update data by going back to General in the Settings app. Tap iPhone Storage, then find the iOS update in the list. Select it and choose Delete Update, then you can try to re-download it.

Updating via Your Computer

Even if your phone is set to sync via Wi-Fi, you need plug it in using a Lightning cable before you can update with iTunes or Finder. Once you connect your phone to your computer open iTunes (or Finder on macOS Catalina and newer) and the device indicator will pop up again. Click on it and select your phone.

On the device page, click Check For Updates (or Update if it’s already found one). A popup will notify you of the new version; click Download and Install. If you use a passcode, you need to enter it before applying the update.


Restarting and Fixing Update Issues

Regardless of the method you used, your phone has to restart to apply the update. This screen shows an Apple logo with a progress bar. Once that finishes, your phone goes to the Hello screen like a new setup. From there, you may need to tap through some menus to agree to any changes and re-enter iCloud info.

If your phone hangs at the Apple logo, you may need to restore. Try pressing a button on your phone; you’ll see a message if the update is still working. If it’s unresponsive for some time (more than 30 minutes or so), try force-restarting it How to Force Restart an iPhone and Enter Recovery Mode Here's how to force restart and use the iPhone recovery mode to restore your device. This works for iPad and iPod touch too! Read More .

After that, reboot your phone. If you get a screen with the iTunes logo and a USB cable, you’ll need to restore it. Connect it to iTunes again and click Restore iPhone on the same screen where you update your phone. Sometimes the update will continue from where you left off and complete as normal after a forced restart.

How to Update iPhone Apps

If you just need to update the apps, you can do this on your iPhone. Apple removed the ability to manage iOS apps through iTunes in a recent update.

Open the App Store on your iPhone. Tap Updates in the bottom navigation bar, then on the next screen tap Update All.

Your iPhone Is Now Up-to-Date

Apple lets you update iOS however you like. In most cases, updating right from your phone is the most convenient. You should only need to update via iTunes if you’ve had an issues with your iPhone.

Now that you’re all up-to-date, why not check out what’s new in iOS 12 What's New in iOS 12? 9 Changes and Features to Check Out iOS 12 has arrived. Learn about the exciting new features now available on an iPhone or iPad near you. Read More ?

Image Credit: PIMPAN/Shutterstock

Related topics: Data Backup, iCloud, iOS, iTunes, Software Updater.

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  1. Paul Darquin
    November 3, 2019 at 8:22 pm

    You may want to update this with MacOS Catalina in mind, as iTunes is no more for those who have updated their computer.

    • Ben Stegner
      November 4, 2019 at 11:45 pm

      Thanks Paul! I've updated this with the proper information for Catalina.

      You can now manage your device by clicking it from the left sidebar under Locations in Finder on macOS. From there, the interface is nearly identical to the old iTunes panel.