How To Update iPad OS Software When You Don’t See Software Update in the Settings App

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Software Update on iPad

Keeping the iOS (operating system) software up to date on your iPad is nearly always a good idea. Each major update to iOS (those that are .0 updates) brings a wealth of impressive new features to the iPad. The ‘point updates’ (5.1 or 6.0.2 for example) tend to offer important bug fixes, security patches, and general performance enhancements.

It is now very easy to update your iOS software right on the iPad itself, with no need to connect to a computer. But … in order to be able to do a wireless, over the air update to iOS you need to already be running at least iOS 5.0. If you’re not yet running iOS 5 then you won’t see the ‘Software Update’ section in the General section of the Settings app, which is where new updates are shown and installed from.

A quick way to check which version of iOS your iPad is running is to go to Settings > General > About and look at the ‘Version’ field. If it shows anything lower than 5.0 then you will need to update via iTunes on a computer one time before being able to do over the air updates in future. Here’s how you go about this:

— Connect your iPad to a PC (Windows or Mac) with iTunes installed, via USB and your sync/charge cable. If you are prompted immediately to update your iOS software you should choose to Cancel and not do that right away.

iTunes New Software Update

— Make sure you have backed up or synced all your important data, photos, music, contacts etc. You can do this via iTunes sync or via a number of 3rd party apps and cloud services. See these two Apple support article for some guidance on syncing with computers and what is covered by iTunes backup:

— Once you are sure you have safely backed up / synced your data, you can move on and get your iPad’s iOS software update done. If you see another popup prompting you to update to the latest software version, you can go ahead and choose ‘Download and Install to get the update done.

— If you don’t see that popup then you should click on the iPad section of iTunes over towards the top right of the iTunes screen and make sure you are on the Summary page in the iPad section. There you should see the latest update shown as available to download and install.


That’s it. And now that you’ve got your iPad updated to the latest iOS version, you can do all your subsequent updates via the iPad itself and the Settings app.

Patrick Jordan

Founder and Editor in Chief of iPad Insight. Husband, father to a lovely daughter, Commander of the Armies of the North, dog lover (especially Labs), Austinite, former Londoner, IT consultant, huge sports nut, iPad and mobile tech blogger, mobile apps junkie.

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7 thoughts on “How To Update iPad OS Software When You Don’t See Software Update in the Settings App”

  1. Hola! I’ve been following your site for some time now and finally got the courage to go ahead and give you a shout out from Houston Tx! Just wanted to mention keep up the great work!

  2. It worked fine for my iPad 2. It seems that the early iPad 2s didn’t have the software-update function. I ignored all the warnings to backup and sync my iPad first – and, guess what, those safety measures are performed automatically with the current iTunes.

    Who would have thought that I would be required to use my PC to upload the current version of the Apple operating system to my iPad? But, Apple now tells me that the new iPad version will not require that embarrassing step – I will be able to upgrade the iPad directly from the iPad itself, with no PC contamination. Will wonders never cease?

  3. I am using an ipad 1 and it wont let m update to the new ios, i am running on 5.1.1 and now I am to the point that I can’t download new apps because I need to update to the newer ios. What do I do?

    1. Zanetta – unfortunately the answer is give up on those apps or get a newer iPad. The original iPad cannot even be updated to iOS 6, nevermind this year’s iOS 7.

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