Welcome to our iOS updating guide, in which we explain how to download and install the most up-to-date publicly available version of iOS on your iPhone and iPad. We explain how to install a beta version of iOS in a separate article.
iOS 10 launched on 13 September 2016, bringing with it a number of new additions and refinements; since then Apple has launched a series of smaller upgrades with patches and minor new features. All have been made available to iPad & iPhone users for free (assuming it’s a recent enough model to qualify).
If you’ve yet to make the move to iOS 10, or just want to ensure you have the latest version of it on your device, this article is for you: we show you how to make the update quickly, easily and safely.
We take you through how to download, install and run the latest version of iOS on your iPhone and iPad, potential problems you may encounter, and whether you should let Apple update your iPhone or iPad for you overnight.
And a warning: bear in mind that if you do change your mind afterwards, it may be too late to go back. We discuss the methods used to achieve this in our article How to remove iOS 10 and go back to iOS 9, but they are dependent on Apple still ‘signing’ the old version… and that is no longer the case for iOS 9.
iOS updating basics
iOS is the operating system software that runs on iPad, iPhone and iPod touch devices. It’s the underlying framework that organises, launches and runs other apps, and can perform a number of features of its own. Read next: How to set up a new iPad
Every summer at WWDC Apple unveils the latest big update to iOS; in June 2017 we will therefore hear about iOS 11. The we all get to download the new OS in September of the same year. There will be smaller point updates throughout the year. At time of writing the latest version is iOS 10.3.1. When you update your device to iOS 10 you will automatically get the most recent version that is available.
Can my iPhone or iPad run iOS 10?
Before updating, you need to make sure your device is certified as capable of running the new software.
The iPad mini 1, iPad 2 and iPad 3, the iPhone 4s, and the fifth-gen iPod touch all got unlucky this time around. They could run iOS 9, but they can’t make the leap to iOS 10.
To run iOS 10 you’ll need an iPad 4 or later, an iPad mini 2 or later, an iPhone 5 or later, or the sixth-gen iPod touch.
Read more: Can my iPad or iPhone run iOS 10?
Preparing for the upgrade
We’re about to walk you through the update process. But before we get to that, here are the steps you should take before you click yes on that update alert. (My colleagues look at a couple of aspects of this in a little more depth in a separate article: How to prepare your devices for iOS 10.)
1) Back up your data
Use iCloud or iTunes to back up your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch. This will save the day if you find that messages or photos disappear from your iPhone after the update.
Beware: the backup will include purchased music, TV shows, apps, and books; photos and video in the Camera Roll; and device settings, but it won’t include anything you synced from your computer. To re-sync that stuff you’ll need to sync with iTunes. For that reason we recommend backing up to your computer as well as iCloud.
2) Save a compatible copy of iOS 9 in case you change your mind
As a general principle this is a sensible idea – you may change your mind and decide you want to downgrade from iOS 10 to iOS 9, and this will be easier if you make sure you’ve got a copy of the latest version of iOS 9 compatible with your device. But Apple is no longer signing iOS 9 so it will be impossible to downgrade in any case.
For future reference, if you have a copy on your hard drive you will find it, by default, by following this path: youruserfolder/Library/iTunes and then select the Software Updates folder for your device. (Access the Library folder in your user folder by holding down the Option key in Finder and selecting Go > Library.)
Your Mac may have deleted this file, however. If so, launch your web browser and search for download ipsw. You’ll find a number of sites offering links to the file you need. Make sure you get the right one for the device you use.
3) Make room on your device
If you have limited space on your phone you may not be able to perform the update – it’s a fairly hefty download. To get ready, you can remove content you no longer need, which is a good idea in any case. See our guide to making room on your iPhone or iPad. Alternatively, you can update iOS in iTunes and save yourself the trouble.
4) Plug in your iPhone or iPad
Make sure you plug in your device to a power source. Running out of battery mid-download can foul up the update.
5) Make sure you’re connected to Wi-Fi
Be sure that you’re downloading over Wi-Fi and not via 3G or 4G, or you may end up using up all your data for the month. Read our guide: how to stop running out of cellular data.
How to install iOS 10
It’s very easy to update your iPhone or iPad to iOS 10, although it may take a few hours.
1) Go to Settings > General > Software Update
You should get a notification informing you that a new version of iOS is available for you to download, then all you need to do is confirm that you’re happy to update your device. But if not, take a look in the Settings app and scroll down to General. Tap Software Update and force iOS to check for new updates.
iOS will think for a moment and then present you with the update, including the amount of storage space required (you may need to clear some space before downloading) and a link to a ‘Learn more’ article that tells you about the changes. Simply confirm you wish to upgrade and follow the steps.
2) Tap Download
Your device may or may not have downloaded the install file automatically.
3) Leave the update to download in the background
Once the download has finished you will receive a notification saying an update is available for your device.
4) Tap Details
This will take you to Settings > General > Software Update.
5) Tap Install Now
The iPhone or iPad will now start to install the iOS update.
You can choose to leave the installation for later. Settings will display a notification badge until you have installed the update.
Fixes for common update problems
Updating iOS is generally easy, but there are lots of small things that can potentially go wrong. Read next: iOS 10 troubleshooting
Update is taking too long
We had a complete nightmare installing iOS 7 in 2013 – it took us all night. We had hoped things might go a bit smoother in 2014 with the launch of iOS 8. But unfortunately not. Again, many faced installation dramas because Apple’s servers seemed unable to cope with the sheer number of people trying to access them to get the download. So if this was your experience it’s not a huge surprise, and you shouldn’t feel like you’re alone.
One thing is for sure: if you choose to update as soon as a new version of iOS 8 launched you’re probably in for a long wait because the first few hours of an update are always the busiest time on Apple’s servers.
With iOS 10 now having been available for several months there should be no problems with busy servers or long delays. But as each iteration of iOS 10 comes out, we recommend giving it a few days just to let the clamour die down and any bugs get ironed out before you put it on your device.
Not enough space on iPhone or iPad
All that presumes you had enough space on your iPhone to start with. A common problem when updating your version of iOS is to find that there isn’t room on your device for the install file. One solution is to delete lots of files from your iPhone and make room, then put them back afterwards. Another option is to update iOS via iTunes on your Mac.
If you don’t need to free up a lot of space you may be happy to delete a few images from your Camera Roll or some of your music. You might find it useful to read our guide to saving space on your iPhone here.
We explain this relatively painless process in a separate article: How to update iOS on your Mac.
Should you let iOS update your iPhone or iPad overnight?
Apple is keen for more users to install incremental iOS updates that provide fixes and small improvements. One way it encourages this is by offering the chance to install them for you overnight while you’re sleeping. If you’re prompted to update your iPhone while you’re using it, Apple now lets you choose ‘Later,’ which will then specify a time period during which it will update automatically for you if you’ve got your iPhone plugged in to a power source, which most people do overnight anyway.
When Apple prompted Macworld’s own Ashleigh Allsopp to update to iOS 9.1 and offered that ‘Later’ option, she decided to make the most of the convenient new feature. She expected to wake up in the morning as usual to an updated iPhone. And indeed she did, but she woke up more than an hour after her alarm was scheduled to go off. The update had worked brilliantly, but her alarm had been deactivated, causing her to be very late for work.
She’s not the only one. Users have taken to social media and forums to express their annoyance with the issue, which we consider to be a bug, and many have been late for important meetings and school.
Therefore, we’d only recommend choosing the later option if you don’t have to wake up at a particular time in the morning, or if you can set another alarm on a different device!
What are the benefits of updating iOS?
This leads us to a harder question: even if you’re allowed to upgrade, is it a good idea to install iOS 10?
In the pro category, a new version of iOS will bring a bunch of new features.
iOS 10’s new features
Alongside general performance enhancements and security updates, iOS brings with it a number of cool features. These include a completely overhauled Messages app, refinements to Apple Music, Apple Maps, the introduction of Memories to the Photo app, and some other nips and tucks across the system.
Check out iOS 10 vs iOS 9 for a direct comparison between iOS 10 and its predecessor.
The 10.2 release also brought these additions to the table;
- Wallpapers for iPhone 7 and 7 Plus
- Widget for the Videos app
- Test the ‘Preserve Settings’ menu in camera settings
- See Unicode 9 emoji
- Be able to ‘Press and Hold to Speak’ menu under Home Button Accessibility settings
- Try the new ‘Celebration’ screen effect in Messages
- ‘Show Star Ratings’ option under Music Settings
- Have the option to sort Apple Music playlists by title, type and recently added
- See a introduction screen for Siri
You can keep up with the iOS version history here.
Will updating iOS slow down my device?
Are there any reasons why you wouldn’t upgrade to iOS 10? Is there any danger it will make performance worse? Read next: How to speed up a slow iPad
First of all, bear in mind that upgrading iOS tends to be essentially a one-way journey. It’s always extremely hard (if not impossible) to go back to the previous version afterwards, so be sure you want to do this before starting the upgrade process.
So you’ll probably be stuck with the new OS if you update. But are there any actual down sides in the way iOS 9 will work?
Partly this depends on whether you’re interested in the new features provided by iOS 10, and you can read more about those in our iOS 10 review. But it also depends on which device you’ve got. We’ll divide this section of the article into three: those who have old iPhones and iPads that only just make it on to the list of compatible devices; those with relatively recent iPhones and iPads; and those with a brand-new iPhone or iPad.
Older devices: iPhone 5, iPhone 5c, iPad 4, iPad mini 2
The main thing to worry about here is speed.
While Apple always works on streamlining iOS and making sure it runs smoothly, it has to be said that recent updates have slowed down iPhones and iPads near the older end of the list of compatible devices. iPhone 4s owners were not impressed when iOS 8 noticeably slowed down a lot of their devices, for example, and while this appeared to be a less common problem with iOS 9, we’d still advise caution.
Googling the name of your device and iOS 10 together is a good way to see what others users have experienced. If possible you could also try to find someone else running the same hardware with iOS installed and see how they got on – has their device slowed down at all?
Here’s what we’ve seen first-hand:
- iPhone 5 – runs well on iOS 10 with little in the way of slowdown. Whether this changes as newer iterations of iOS are released will be something we keep an eye on.
Medium-age devices: iPhone 5s, 6 or 6 Plus, either iPad Air model, iPad mini 3 or 4
It’s not guaranteed, but these devices generally seem to be okay running the new software.
We can confirm first-hand that the following devices are fine with iOS 10:
- iPhone 5s – runs fine
- iPhone 6 – runs fine
iPhone 6s and later, iPad Pro and later, and sixth-gen iPod touch
As previously mentioned, it’ll be hard to downgrade back to iOS 9 once you make the jump. But there’s really no reason not to make the upgrade if you’ve got a very recent device. These will easily be able to handle the processor demands of iOS 10, and iOS 10 doesn’t include any significant graphical changes to annoy you, as happened with iOS 7.
(When iOS 7 launched, many users were horrified by the radical graphical redesign, which took a while to get used to and still annoys a minority of iPhone and iPad owners. That year we advised people to spend time with borrowed iOS 7 devices if they could, and see if they got used to the look of the OS after a week or two – generally interface changes feel earth-shattering at the time, then before you know it you can’t remember how it used to look.)
We can confirm first-hand that the following devices are fine with iOS 10:
- iPhone SE – runs fine
- iPhone 6s – runs fine
- iPhone 6s Plus – runs fine
- iPad Pro 12.9 – runs fine
If your iPad or iPhone is up to it (and really up to it – not just officially rated as iOS 10-compatible), you should probably update. Even if you don’t care about the new features, the boring stuff – such as bug fixes and compatibility with new apps – is important.
But take the decision carefully, because you probably won’t be able to go back.
See where your iPhone or iPad sits on the chart of compatible devices above. If it’s only just new/powerful enough to run the new OS, you need to find out if there will be any speed problems. See how people with the same model as you get on.
Beta versions of iOS
There are various reasons why you might want to download a beta version of iOS, but generally it’s because the public version hasn’t come out yet. Every version of iOS, including the point releases (10.1, 10.2, 10.3 etc.) enter beta testing before they go on general release.
Downloading an iOS beta is more complicated than getting the final public-release version, however. We address it in a separate article: How to install a beta version of iOS.