Three Ways to Keep Your iPhone Apps Up to Date

update iphone apps
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There are a lot of reasons to keep your iPhone's apps up to date. On the fun side, new versions of apps deliver great new features. A less fun—but maybe more important—reason is that app updates fix bugs that may be causing you problems. (And, if the problem is that your iPhone won't update apps at all, check out How to Fix an iPhone That Can't Update Apps.) 

There are two (or, depending on your software, three) ways to keep your apps updated, from manual techniques to automatic settings so you never have to think about updates again.

Option 1: App Store App

The first way to make sure you're always using the latest version of your apps comes standard with every iPhone and iPod touch: the App Store app. 

To see which of your apps are ready to update, follow these steps:

  1. Tap the App Store app to open it.
  2. Tap Updates in the bottom right.
  3. At the top of the screen, there is a list of apps with available updates. You can:
  • Tap More to get details about the update.
  • Tap the app icon to view all the information about the app (age rating, reviews, screenshots, etc.) in the App Store
  • Tap Update to install the new version of the app.

Option 2: Automatic Updates

Sen. John McCain once teased Apple CEO Tim Cook that he was sick of always having to update his apps. Thanks to a feature introduced in iOS 7, he—and you—never have to tap Update again. That's because apps can now automatically update.

This is great in terms of efficiency, but if you're not careful it can also result in downloading large files over cellular networks and using up your monthly data limit. Here's how to turn on automatic updates and conserve your data:

  1. Tap the Settings app.
  2. Tap iTunes & App Store.
  3. Scroll to the Automatic Downloads section.
  4. Move the Updates slider to on/green.
  5. To ensure that you only download over Wi-Fi (which won't count against your monthly limit), move the Use Cellular Data slider to off/white. 

The Use Cellular Data setting also controls automatic downloads of music, apps, and books purchased from the iTunes Store, as well as iTunes Match and Apple Music Radio. If you need cellular data for any of those features, consider disabling the automatic app updates slider. Downloading a song or book is usually a few megabytes; an app might be hundreds of megabytes.

Option 3: iTunes

This option is no longer available in recent versions of iTunes. The App Store can only be used on iOS devices now. But if you've got older versions of iTunes, this is still an option.

If you spend a lot of time in iTunes, you can update your apps there and them sync them to your iPhone. To do this:

  1. Open iTunes on your computer.
  2. Click the apps icon in the top left corner of the window (you can also click the View menu and select Apps or, using the keyboard, click Command+7 on a Mac or Control+7 on a PC).
  3. Click Updates in the row of buttons near the top.
  4. This lists all the apps on your computer with available updates. This list may be different from what you see on your iPhone because it includes every app you've ever downloaded, not just the ones currently installed on your phone. Also, if you've updated on your iPhone and not yet synced with your computer, iTunes won't know you don't need this update.
  5. Click on an app to get more details about the update.
  6. Click Update to update the app.
  7. Alternatively, to update every app that's eligible, click the Update All Apps button in the bottom right corner.

Bonus Tip: Background App Refresh

There's another way to keep your apps updated that you may appreciate: Background App Refresh. This feature introduced in iOS 7 doesn't download the latest version of an app; instead, it updates your apps with new content so you've always got the latest information.

Let's say you have this feature turned on for your Twitter app and you always check Twitter while eating breakfast at 7 a.m. Your phone learns this pattern and, if the feature is turned on, will refresh your Twitter feeds before 7 a.m. so that when you open the app you're seeing the freshest content.

To turn on Background App Refresh:

  1. Tap the Settings app.
  2. Tap General.
  3. Tap Background App Refresh.
  4. Tap the Background App Refresh menu.
  5. Choose whether you want Background App Refresh to be Off, work only over Wi-Fi, or work over Wi-Fi & Cellular Data.
  6. You probably won't want to use Background App Refresh with all of your apps. You can control which apps get their data refreshed by moving their sliders on and off.

Background App Refresh can, of course, use your monthly cellular data. If you're concerned about that but still want to use the feature, set it to Wi-Fi in step 5 above. Second, it can be a serious battery drain, so if battery life is important to you, you may prefer to keep it turned off.