How to Keep Your iPhone Apps Up to Date

Phone will lots of app icons coming out of it
Kamruzzaman Ratan/Digital Vision Vectors/Getty Images

There are lots of reasons to keep your 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 your 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 if you're running a specific version 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, just tap the Updates tab from the bottom menu and then choose Update All to update all the apps that require updates. You can also select UPDATE next to any app to update just that one app.

App Store on iPhone with pending updates

Most apps have extensive details on what will update when you get the latest app version. Just tap more if you see it 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 that 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:

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

  2. Select the button next to Updates in the Automatic Downloads section to enable auto-updating for your apps.

  3. Disable Use Cellular Data to make sure app updates only download when you're on Wi-Fi.

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

Use iTunes to Update iPhone Apps

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

This option isn't available in recent versions of iTunes, so it's only relevant if you're still running an old version of iTunes (prior to version 12.7).

  1. From iTunes, select the icon for apps in the top left corner of the window. You can also go to View > Apps.

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

    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.

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

Alternatively, to update every app that's eligible, select Update All Apps.

Bonus Tip: Background App Refresh

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

Granted, this isn't the same as updating the actual app itself, but it's still very useful.

Let's say you have this feature turned on for your Twitter app, and you always check Twitter while eating breakfast at 7 AM. Your phone learns this pattern and, if the feature is turned on, will refresh 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, or Wi-Fi & Cellular Data to also use this feature with your mobile data plan.

    iPhone Background App Refresh settings

    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 only. Second, it can be a serious battery drain, so if battery life is important to you, you may prefer to keep it turned off.

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

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