How to Keep Your iPhone Apps up to Date

Don't miss out on new features and bug fixes

There are lots of reasons to keep iPhone 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 address things like crashes and security issues. There are a few ways to keep iPhone apps updated, from manual techniques to automatic settings so that you never have to think about updates again.

Some of these directions apply to all iPhones but some are only relevant to specific versions of the software. These differences are pointed out below.

Update iPhone Apps With App Store

The most common way to keep apps updated on your iPhone is with the built-in App Store app. To do this, tap the Updates tab in the bottom menu and choose Update All to update the apps that require updates. You can also select UPDATE next to any app to update only that app.

Updates icon, Update button, Update All button in iOS App Store

Most apps have extensive details on what will update with the latest app version. Tap more to read the version history for that app.

Enable Automatic Updates for iPhone Apps

Ever since iOS 7, the iPhone has been able to update apps automatically whenever developers release a new version. This means you never have to tap the update button again; just enjoy the most current apps all the time.

This is great in terms of efficiency, but if you're not careful it can also result in downloading large files over cellular networks, which can quickly use up your monthly data limit.

Here's how to turn on automatic app updates and conserve your data:

  1. Open the Settings app and go to iTunes & App Store.

  2. In the Automatic Downloads section, turn on the Updates toggle switch to enable auto-updating for apps.

  3. Turn off the Use Cellular Data toggle switch to make sure app updates only download when the device is connected to Wi-Fi.

    iTunes & App Store, Updates toggle, Use Cellular Data toggle

The cellular option also applies to other automatic updates that may be enabled, like for music and books. If you need cellular data for any of those features, disable auto-downloads for Updates so that the cellular option can be enabled. Song and book downloads are fairly small, while app updates might be hundreds of megabytes.

Use iTunes to Update iPhone Apps

If you spend a lot of time in iTunes, update your apps in iTunes and sync them to your iPhone.

This option isn't available in recent versions of iTunes, so it's only relevant on old versions of iTunes (prior to version 12.7).

  1. From iTunes, select the icon for apps in the upper-left corner of the window. Or, go to View > Apps.

  2. Select Updates in the row of buttons near the top. This lists 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.

    If you've updated the apps on your iPhone and haven't synced the phone with your computer, iTunes won't know that you don't need the update.

  3. Choose an app to get more details about the update, and select Update to get the latest version. To update every app, select Update All Apps.

Background App Refresh

There's another way to keep your apps updated: Background App Refresh. This feature, introduced in iOS 7, doesn't download the latest version of an app but instead refreshes apps with new content so that you always have the latest information. This isn't the same as updating the app, but it's still very useful.

If Background App Refresh is turned on for the Twitter app, for example, and you always check Twitter while eating breakfast at 7 AM, the phone learns this pattern and, if the feature is turned on, refreshes your Twitter feeds before 7 AM so that you see the most up-to-date content when you launch the app.

Here's how to turn on Background App Refresh:

  1. Open Settings and go to General > Background App Refresh.

  2. Tap Background App Refresh.

  3. Choose Wi-Fi to have Background App Refresh enabled on when you're on a Wi-Fi network.

  4. Choose Wi-Fi & Cellular Data to also use this feature with your mobile data plan.

    Background App Refresh, On button, Wi-Fi & Cellular Data in iOS settings

    Background App Refresh uses your monthly cellular data. If you're concerned about that but still want to use the feature, set it to Wi-Fi only. It can be a serious battery drain, so if battery life is important to you, keep it turned off.

  5. Tap the arrow at the top left of the screen to see all the apps for which Background App Refresh can be enabled.

  6. Tap the button next to any of the listed apps to enable Background App Refresh.

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