How to Use Over-the-Air (OTA) Software Update on iOS
When a new iOS software update is made available, you can download and install the update directly on the iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch by using Over the Air updates, abbreviated as OTA. These work by downloading only the files that are different (this is called a delta update), so the file size is smaller than updating with iTunes or with general IPSW downloads, making the installation process faster. OTA updates also eliminate the need to connect an iOS device to a computer when upgrading software. It’s always a good idea to backup your iOS device before updating the software.
How to Download and Install iOS Software Updates with OTA
This works to install an available software update directly from the iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. You should always backup the device before beginning.
- Launch Settings and tap on “General”
- Tap on “Software Update” to see information about the available iOS update
- Tap on “Download and Install” and let the process complete to update system software
Updating with Over-the-Air software update mechanism is identical on all versions of iOS that support the update method.
You’ll agree to a Terms and Conditions, and if you’re not connected to a power source, you will get a pop-up notification suggesting you connect to one. Over The Air updates are much faster than iOS upgrades through iTunes or manual updates with firmware files, and assuming you have reasonably fast internet connectivity, should be done downloading in just a few minutes. Leave the device alone and it will automatically reboot and finish the installation.
The video below walks through the process of installing an iOS software update this way:
Note that with newer releases of iOS you’ll see two indicators that the update is actually installing: the gears are moving in the Software Update panels icon, and also there is a progress bar that updates as the file is downloading and installing, giving you an idea of what to expect. When the initial stages are finished in modern iOS onward, you’ll encounter the initial downloading and installing screen, and then see a black screen with a progress bar that indicates the firmware is being updated. Do not try to turn the device off during these steps or you may have problems.
If the OTA update isn’t working or is greyed out, it’s likely because the device needs to have at least half of it’s battery, and perhaps most important but often overlooked, the device must be connected to a wireless network for OTA to be available as an option.
Less likely nowadays with most devices running newer iOS versions, is OTA may not be available because the device is not currently on iOS 5 or greater, when OTA updates became supported.
Keep in mind that OTA updates are not the only way to update your iOS software, you can continue to connect the iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, or iPod touch to a computer with iTunes and it will automatically prompt you to update the device. Additionally, anyone can use firmware and update the software directly, but that is generally reserved for more advanced users. All in all, Over-the-Air is the way to go, it’s the fastest, easiest, smallest download footprint, and most fool-proof method.
OTA software update was first introduced some time ago, if you happen to have a much older iPhone or iPad the screen for updating may look like this instead, but the feature is the same:
You may find that, depending on the version of iOS you run, the menus look slightly different after the iOS 5, iOS 6, iOS 7, iOS 8, or iOS 9 updates, that’s just visual differences, but the process is identical regardless of the version or what it looks like.