Why Can't I Upgrade My iPad?

Most—not all—iPads can be upgraded to iOS 12

Man on couch

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Apple puts out a new version of the iPad's operating system each year. These iOS updates include new features, bug fixes, and improved security. The upgrade process is usually straightforward, but glitches do crop up.

If you are having trouble upgrading to the latest version of iOS on your iPad, it may be because your device has an insufficient charge or lacks the necessary free space—problems you can easily remedy.

However, it could also be because your iPad is old and can't be updated to the latest version of the operating system. The only way to "fix" an obsolete iPad is to buy a new one.

Check out our instructions for upgrading iOS to review, in detail, the normal procedure for updating your iPad using iTunes.

Information in this article applies to iPads running iOS 12, iOS 11, or iOS 10, except as noted.

Lack of Free Space Prevents Upgrade

Your iPad may need as much as 3 GB of free space to swap out the operating system for an iOS upgrade. If your iPad is just a little short of the needed space, it offers to remove apps temporarily and reinstall them later. However, if your iPad has nowhere near enough free space, you won't see the option to download. Instead, you'll see an error message suggesting you trim some of the apps, music, movies, or photos from your iPad to free up space before attempting the upgrade again.

Screenshot of an iPad that cannot upgrade due to a lack of storage space

This problem is relatively easy to solve. Most of us have apps and games we don't use anymore. Delete an app by holding your finger on the app icon for several seconds until the app begins shaking and then tapping the X in the corner.

Going to the iPad Storage screen is a better method for freeing up space.

  1. From the Settings app, select General > iPad Storage.

    Path to iPad Storage screen
  2. Tap any app listed in the iPad Storage screen that you don't regularly use to open its information screen. The apps are listed by how much space they take up, beginning with the largest.

    iPad Storage Settings screen
  3. In the app information screen, choose Offload App to remove the app while keeping documents and data intact or Delete App to delete the app and all data. The amount of space saved by either action is listed at the top of the screen. Deleting an app frees up more space, but its data and documents are not retrievable, and the deletion is permanent, although you can redownload the app itself later.

    Selecting Apps for Delection on the iPad
  4. Repeat the process with other apps, focusing on the ones you seldom use or take up the most space on the iPad.

You can also move photos and videos to your computer. Videos can take up a surprisingly large amount of space. If you want to keep access to them on your iPad, copy them to iCloud or a similar service.

Power Your iPad to Upgrade

If your iPad is below 50 percent battery life, you can't upgrade it. Connecting it to a computer is one way to charge it, but the best way is to use the AC adapter that came with the tablet and connect it directly to a wall outlet before attempting an upgrade.

If you enabled Automatic Updates, which Apple introduced in iOS 12, or selected Install Tonight, which is available in iOS 10 through 12, the iPad must be connected to power overnight.

Screenshot of an iPad with 2% charge

Yikes! My iPad Is Obsolete

Each year, Apple releases a new lineup of iPads to go along with the new operating system. For most people, the new operating system is compatible with their existing iPads, so there is no need to upgrade the tablet itself. However, Apple has slowly stopped upgrading older iPad models that cannot run its advanced features. If you have one of the following iPads, you can't upgrade it beyond the listed iOS version.

  • The original iPad was the first to lose official support. The last version of iOS it supports is 5.1.1.
  • The iPad 2, iPad 3, and iPad Mini cannot be upgraded past iOS 9.3.5.
  • The iPad 4 does not support updates past iOS 10.3.3.

All other iPad models can be upgraded to iOS 12.

Why Did Apple Stop Supporting My iPad?

The iPad dropped support for the original iPad because it only had 256 MB of RAM. This is the memory used to run the operating system and apps and shouldn't be confused with the 16 GB, 32 GB, and 64 GB used to store apps on the iPad. The memory restrictions with the original iPad made many of the advanced features of the iPad, such as the virtual touchpad and multitasking, impossible.

Apple also moved the iPad from 32-bit architecture to 64-bit architecture with the iPad Air. This might seem like techno-language to most, but this makes the iPad much more efficient. This move led to the iPad 2, iPad 3, iPad 4, and iPad Mini no longer being compatible with the newest updates.

There isn't anything to be done about this hardware limitation other than buy a new iPad. However, your iPad should still work and support many apps; you just can't get new features or newer apps. These iPads also make great tablets for the kids.

While they may not have the newest features, most of the obsolete iPads can still download compatible apps from the App Store, browse the web, display e-books, access Facebook, and keep track of emails.

You can still get a little money for your iPad by selling it or using a trade-in program.