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, ZEN and TECH, MacBreak Weekly. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter,, Google+.

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There are 66 comments. Add yours.

JhonnyC says:

My iPhone says "this update requires Wi-fi to download" any thoughts?

Charlie says:

does anyone know how to do this when in general there's no software update option?!

JhonnyC says:

My iPhone says "this update requires Wi-fi to download" any thoughts?

JhonnyC says:

My iPhone says "this update requires Wi-fi to download" any thoughts?

Konark  says:

OTA like a charm !

Konark  says:

OTA like a charm !

Yuppo says:

Worked really well. I think Ericsson were first with ota updates on uiq.

Yuppo says:

Works really well. I think Ericsson were first with ota updates on uiq.

Marco Laure says:

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

Sketso says:

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.

stephen007 says:

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.

iphoneota says:

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

vayda says:

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.

itzjaxx says:

I tough you can update with 3G and wifi my phone says it needs a wifi connection.

Williamharley says:

Hey guys, it says I require wifi to download. Is there any way to do this over the air via 3G?

Williamharley says:

Hey guys, it says I require wifi to download. Is there any way to do this over the air via 3G?

GeorgeDW says:

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.

Soto619 says:

I set My3G on for the app settings and it works as charm to download over 3G.

kch50428 says:

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.

Katie says:

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?

Matthew Runnels says:

I can,t find the software update on my ipad am I suppose to have it?

cstang505 says:

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.

gopackgo says:

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.

Randy b says:

U need to on wifi for this to work wrf

BizarreFoodie says:

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?

Toddy says:

Super smooth...updated and all good to go in 5 minutes! A big thumbs up to Apple.

Marek Paul says:

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 ?

Iphreaky says:

Remember to back up data before updating. Use your PC, mac or iCloud. Here you can see a quick iCloud setup guide iCloud setup guide. Hope it helps.

Jauhari says:

Done... we have do it.. many thanks

Simon says:

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

Stephen S says:

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

Furkan Aibani says:

will i lose everything (apps,musics,movies) if i update ios 5.0 to 5.0.1 ota...??

Mhy says:

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

Rougee says:

Will the update erase my photos ?

Rougee says:

Will the update erase my photos ?

Jeffvarner says:

On my phone there is no software update option. What do I do now?

Ali Nfn says:

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.

Harry Larson says:

Good stuff is always a good stuff. ThanksiPhone Software

Tim Petters says:

Great thanks for the share of info. Will use this on my new web :)iPhone Software

greg says:

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

Joseph says:

Mine too and I still havent figured it out!!! HELP!

Cayla says:

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.

Laura says:

Trying to do the same thing on my ipad2. Dont see the option either! :s

ramin-saljoghee says:

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??

Laura says:

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

Anonymis says:

I know there is no option my computer is to slow what do I do?!

Angie says:

I have the same problem, I don't see the software upgrade option. Please help

Angie says:

I also reset all settings and nothing, cannot see the option on my ipad2.

Munadiah says:

when i go onto general on my ipod touch 3g i cant find software updates

Connie says:

Can't find software update on my iPad2 after I got to settings.

Sand Man says:

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.

Kwalk says:

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.

Sam says:

Ok my settings tab doesn't have that update soft ware thingy what to do.

DVD players says:

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!

Eleni Laberpool says:

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

Arpit says:

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??! :/

ashleigh says:

will I lose all my data on my phone if I update my phone via the settings app?

Nono says:

What I have to do with iPhone 3G? The steps aren't same

ajay says:

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..

Maxxer says:

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.

Katrina says:

I don't have a software update option either. WTH?? anyone??

Luisa Muti says:

My iPhone doesn't have software update on my phone so how would I update my iPhone from my iPhone ?