How to update your iPhone or iPad software over the air (OTA)

How to update your iPhone or iPad software over the air (OTA)

Curious how to update to iOS 5.0.1 -- or any future iOS update -- over-the-air (OTA) directly on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch? Yes, Apple finally pulled the big switch in the cloud and you can go from one software version to the next, OTA and in-place faster than any iTunes restore past. We'll show you how, after the break!

Initiating an OTA update for iOS is really easy. You might see a red notification badge on your Settings app to alert you to an update, or get a popup notification telling you it's ready to install, but you can always check on your own, at any time.

  1. Launch the Settings app
  2. Tap General
  3. Tap Software Update
  4. If there's nothing new, you'll be told just so. Otherwise, you'll be presented with all the details about the update.
  5. Tap Download and Install
  6. Agree to the Terms and Conditions
  7. IMPORTANT! If you're low on juice, make sure you plug in! You don't want your battery to die mid-update!
  8. Watch the progress bar! (This part depends on the speed and quality of your 3G or Wi-Fi signal. Don't be alarmed if it takes a long time, speeds up or slows down, or appears to jump around -- be patient.)
  9. Once it's finished downloading, you'll be prompted to instal (and restart) your device. If you don't explicitly hit Later or Install within a few seconds, it will install on your behalf.
  10. Agree to the Terms and Conditions yet again.
  11. Apple will verify the install.
  12. That's it!

Not only does iOS 5 update OTA, it updates in place using bit-differential (delta) files, so you should get a faster, much more efficient process. For example, there's no need to restore from backup afterwards or re-download your stuff.

Seriously, once the download finishes it's amazing quick and smooth. Apple may not have invented OTA updates (Chris swears BlackBerry has had them for ages, and Nokia likely invented them in 1812...) but if this is any indication, they're doing them right.

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, Review, Vector, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

How to update your iPhone or iPad software over the air (OTA)


Update fails... I tried twice and failed during or after "Verifying update..." Updated fine tethered to my computer...

One thing I see in this article: "Watch the progress bar! (This part depends on the speed and quality of your 3G or Wi-Fi signal...)" My phone required a Wi-Fi connection, and wouldn't update via 3G. This might be an option I've turned off somewhere, but I really can't recall. If so, it would be nice to see you include how to make sure you can update over 3G.

This is probably related to the file size. In this case the update is being reported to be somewhere from 40-55MB which is well over the usual 10MB limit that they allow for downloading over 3G.

Yeah I'm on ATT 3G and its a 44GB update and while that size update had worked OTA during the betas, its now requiring me to be on WiFi...hmm

If your battery is below 50%, you must be plugged into a power source. If not, it will download the update and then give an error message before installing it.

Anybody waiting for an untethered jailbreak, watch out- it's been reported this breaks at least one of the exploits being used to develop an untethered jailbreak for 5.0.

It sucks that I'm running 5.0.1 beta 2 (9A404) and the new build won't come OTA. Apple should really have the server look at the build number as well.

I can see why Apple might restrict updates to wifi only... Imagine the grief of thousands of idiots blaming an Apple update for blowing the lid off their data cap and wanting compensation for overage charges... Simple matter of Apple practicing gluteus protectus. Smart move IMHO.

I'm trying to do this OTA but when I go into settings and general there is no tab for software upgrade anyone else have this problem or have a way to fix it?

I know it's not listed as one of the updates of iOS 5.0.1 but has anyone noticed any improvement on icloud pushing e-mails? I've had to "fetch" new emails since updating to iOS 5.

I have had the same issue with iCloud push emails.Right now it is working.However,it usually works well for a couple of days and then I need to go fetch the emails.Guess we'll have to wait and see if this was fixed. I did not do the update OTA.I did it the old fashion way with iTunes so that iOS was reinstalled completely,hopefully that would help.

So why is the update a different size for each of us? Rene has 55 MB, mine is 38, another AT&T customer said theirs is 44. What's up with the discrepancy, isn't it the same file for everyone?

After updating to 5.0.1 OTA on my iPhone 4 and iPad 1 I appear to have lost the ability to copy text from, say Evernote, and paste it into iMessage or Mail. I know I was able to do this prior to the update. Anyone else seeing this behaviour ?

why wasnt there a notification to say the update was available, i wouldnt have know if i didnt read this post.

Did the update last night and my battery is definitely worse. Thinking I may need to restore. Anyone else having this happen?

how come software update tab does not show on my general settings?how ca n i update my ipad?

For those who don't want to update and wait for untethered jailbreak, you can use badgeclear from cydia to get rid the notification from the setting icon.

I don't have the software updates option in my general tab. Now what do I do? I have wifi.

My phone has no "software update" on it. I checked on my other friends unupdated phone and she had it but u dont. I have a 32gb btw.

hey guy's
ios5.1 is rdy for download!
but here
general>software update
I.O.S 5.0.1
your software is up to date!
i tryed every thing!
1-restarting network!
2-restart iphone!
3-restart all setting's
not working!
what is the problem??

Guys i dont see the Software Upgrade option on my ipad 2. I followed the steps: settings, general and still cant see any Software Upgrade option. Why?? Need help here. Thanks

For all the people saying they have no software update button, neither did I and I didn't see that anyone posted an answer to this. What you need to do is hook up your iPad to another computer that has iTunes installed. From there you can use the iTunes software update feature to load the latest OS version. I able to do an OTA update on my iPhone as I had the update button, but did not have it on the iPad. It works fine. One thing, you will want to back up any apps or purchased applications from your iPad before proceeding. I hope this helps.

Does anyone know what to do if there is no "software update" option in general settings? I don't see a post to that effect.

Wonderful site. Lots of useful information here. I am sending it to some friends ans also sharing in delicious. And of course, thank you on your sweat!

Never mind...I was getting the first error that Robert mentioned, but once I replaced the code with Emmanuel's, it fixed it. Robert, regarding your second error, make sure that you replace YOUR IPHONE or IPOD TEMPLATE NAME with hoo

hello everybody! i just wanted to know,asap btw,how i can stop the download in between...i actly put it for downloading just to see what happens and it started...i thot it'll stop if i turn off the wi-fi but when i turn it back on,the download starts too...anyway to stop the download??! :/

after i go to settings n then General there is no Software Update option available in my Iphone 4 ,is it normal and how to get this option..

Like most others no software update option. Typical apple crap, this walled garden stuff does not work at all. I updated my android in a 10minute ota and it even kept my rooting. Apple just go linux , (bsd no count u idiots) that stuff at
Least works.