iPad Basics: How To Do iPad OS Software Updates Over the Air (wirelessly)

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iOS Software Update Downloading

One of the ‘PC Free’ features of iOS 5 on the iPad is the ability to update the iPad’s operating system software (iOS) over the air. – as in, without needing to connect to iTunes on a PC. This week, for instance, Apple released iOS 5.1.1 – the latest update to iOS – and it can be easily installed directly on your iPad.

Here’s how:

Just as you would before updating your PC operating system, it’s a good idea to make sure you’ve got a current backup of your iPad before starting. Depending on how you sync data on the iPad you may want to do a connected (to a PC running iTunes) backup and sync, or an iCloud backup on the iPad itself, or both. To do an iCloud backup on the iPad just go to Settings > iCloud and tap on the Storage & Backup button. Then choose the Back Up Now button at the bottom of the Storage & Backup screen.

Once you’re comfortable that you have got current backup and sync done, here are the steps to get your iPad iOS software updated”:

— Go to Settings > General > Software Update.

If there is an update available you’ll see a screen something like this one showing details on the update and its version number:

iOS Software Update Details

If your iOS software is up to date you’ll see a confirmation message to that effect instead of seeing new update details.

** Note: If you are trying to update in the first few hours after a major, popular update release you may find that your iPad won’t ‘see’ the new update right away while Apple’s servers are dealing with a heavy volume of updates. Give it a few hours and try again is generally the best policy when this occurs.

— Tap on the Download and Install button – and then review and agree to the terms and conditions that are shown in a popover dialog. Once you agree you’ll see another popover advising you to connect your iPad to a power source while the download is in progress ‘to save battery’.

Connect to Power popup

If your iPad battery is at 50% or higher charge you should be able to ignore this advice. Once you tap OK on that dialog you’ll see a progress bar just below the title of the update – showing the download progress visually, giving an estimate of time remaining, and updating the status as it goes along – as shown in the screenshot at the top of this post.

— When the download finishes a message dialog will popup offering you Install and Later buttons – tap Install to run the install right away or later to defer it. The dialog will let you know that the install will begin automatically in X number of seconds if you don’t tap the Later button.

Install or Later

— If you chose to let the install continue then the next thing you’ll see is the iPad switching to the iPad startup black screen with a progress bar. This may go quickly or it may sit there for several minutes with no apparent progress – don’t worry if it just sits there. When the progress bar reaches the end you’ll see the Apple logo, and then you may see the progress bar again – generally it will run through much more quickly the second time. Then you’ll see the Apple logo again and the iPad should startup and bring up the lock screen.

Lock Screen

— Once you’re back on the iPad home screen, you can verify the update’s successful install a couple of ways: you can either go to Settings > General > Software Update again and make sure it tells you your software is up to date; or you can go to Settings > General > About and look at the Version field on the right to confirm it matches the number you saw on the update details screen earlier.

That’s it. After this quick set of steps your iPad iOS software will be up to date. If you do this at just about any time outside of those peak-traffic first few hours after an update release it should just take around 10-15 minutes in most cases.


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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