Whether and how to update or upgrade your iPhone, iPad or Mac

First, let’s get some terms straight  What is the difference between updating and upgrading?:

  • Updating:  This is accepting minor changes to your operating system.  These changes often include fixing software bugs, security vulnerabilities and minor feature or function enhancements.  Examples of updates would be updating your iPhone from iOS 9.1 to 9.2 or your Mac from OS X 10.10.1 to 10.10.2.  There is no reason to not do these updates and, in fact, the sooner you do these updates, the better.  Because they include bug fixes and security enhancements, you will benefit.  Don’t even ask if you should do them, just do the updates.
  • Upgrading: This is a fairly major change to an operating system.  These include major feature enhancements (or removal), major bug fixes, security upgrades and/or architectural changes.  Examples of upgrades include upgrading your iPhone from iOS 8 to iOS 9 or upgrading your Mac from OS X 10.10 (Yosemite) to 10.11 (El Capitan).  It is worth asking about and researching these upgrades before you proceed.  In fact, if you are conservative about change, you may want to just wait for the “.1” version (or higher) of the upgrade (e.g., iOS 9.1 or OS X 10.10.1).  These are usually very stable and address initial bugs with the upgrade.

So now you know the difference between updating and upgrading and you have decided to proceed with one or the other.  How do you properly proceed to minimize risk of problems?  My philosophy is to make sure your device (iPhone, iPad, Mac or whatever) is healthy before proceeding.  We will do this by rebooting (restarting) the device.  This is extremely important.    You may not know the health of your device - it seems to be working well to you - but do you know that everything “under the hood” is working as it should?  No, you do not.  Also, we want to make sure your device is backed up in case something goes wrong.  Here is how to make sure your device is as healthy as you can make it and to ensure it is backed up:

iOS devices (iPads & iPhones): First, let’s “force quit” all of the apps that may be running on your device.  When you stop using an app, it does not actually quit, it simply “suspends” it - like putting it in a freezer, waiting for you to come back and use it where you left off.  Here is how to force quit an app (this will not delete the app) and reboot your device:

  1. Click the Home button to take you to your home page of apps.
  2. Double-click that same Home button.
  3. You will see miniature window of each app in suspension.  With your finger, swipe up on each window to drag it to the top of the screen.
  4. Do this with each app until there are no more.  There will be a miniature version of your home page. You will not be able to drag it to the top.
  5. Click the Home button again to return to your home page.
  6. Hold the power button of your device (top right or upper right side) until you see “Slide to power off”.  Slide it.
  7. After about 60 seconds, hold that same power button to turn your device back on.  Fully unlock the device back until you return to your home page.

Now, let’s backup your device - make of a copy of it, its apps, settings and your content (pictures, videos, emails, texts, etc.) to somewhere safe.  I recommend you use iCloud to do this.  This is not the place to explain the workings or benefits of iCloud, so I will proceed assuming you believe me that backing up to iCloud is the way to go.  How to backup your device:

  1. Open the Settings app and go to “iCloud.”
  2. Proceed to the Backup setting and make sure that iCloud Backup is switched on.  If it is not, tap it to turn it on.  Below that, tap “Back Up Now.”  Wait for the backup to complete.
  3. If you get a backup error it is often that there is not enough room on iCloud to backup.  If that is the case, go to Settings > iCloud > Storage > Change Storage Plan.  Buy the $0.99/month version of more iCloud Storage then go back to the steps above to try backing up again.

So now your device is about as healthy as you can make it and it is recently backed up.  You are ready to update or upgrade.  Both updating and upgrading are done the same way: proceed to Settings > General > Software Update and start the process, following its prompts.

Macs: First, Quit all apps.  This is NOT done by clicking the red dot in the upper left of app windows.  That usually only closes the current window.  Quitting an app is done in one of 3 ways:

  • Click on the name of the app running (next to the Apple menu in the upper left of your screen) and choose “Quit”
  • Right click (two finger click on laptops) or hold Control and click on the Dock icon for the app and choose “Quit”
  • My favorite: with the App running, hold Command and tap Q on your keyboard.

Once all of the apps are quit you will notice that none of them (except Finder) will have a black dot under them in the Dock.  These black dots indicate that an app is still running.  Make sure that Finder is the only one showing a black dot.

Go to the Apple menu and choose Restart.  Let the Mac fully restart back to your Desktop.

Now, let’s backup your Mac.  I have written about this in previous blogs so I am not going to repeat that here.  We will use Time Machine to get a current backup of your freshly restarted Mac.

  1. Go to the Time Machine icon near the clock in the upper right corner of your screen.
  2. Under the Time Machine icon choose “Backup Now”.
  3. Go back and tap the Time Machine icon again to watch its progress.  Wait until the backup completes.

Once your Mac is backed up, let’s proceed to update or upgrade.  Apple menu > App Store.  Once in the App Store, click on the Updates tab along the top.

  • If you are updating, simply click the “Update” or “Update All” button (depending on how many you have).  You may have to enter your AppleID password to proceed.
  • If you are upgrading, simply click the “Free Upgrade” or “Upgrade” button and follow the prompts.

That is about it.  Just remember that it is critical that your device is freshly restarted and freshly backed up before you proceed with your update or upgrade.