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iOS Updates Over the Air vs. iTunes Update: What’s the Difference



Here is a guide on the differences between updating your iOS through Settings over the air or installing with a Computer using iTunes.

When new updates are pushed out through Apple’s servers, we usually will receive a notification that an update is available over the air. Most users will update this at their own pace yet there are a few things to consider when it comes to how you should perform the update.

iOS Updates Over the Air vs. iTunes Update

Here are some of the differences and benefits of both methods of updating your iOS.

Watch the above video for more information on the different ways of updating to latest versions of iOS.

Updating Over the Air

As mentioned, updates over the air are probably the most commonly used method to stay current with your iPhone’s OS. You will usually get notified via push notification that there is a new version of iOS available for you. There will also be a red flag notification on your Settings application.


These updates will be downloaded over Wi-Fi and then ready to install at your convenience. The updates usually take anywhere from 10-20 minutes depending on your connection and device type yet it something that can usually be done at the end of a day or during a slow office hour.

When it comes to upsides and downsides to this method of updating, there a few things to bring up. A big benefit of the over the air downloads is the convenience factor. If you are in a Wi-fi area and are able to wait for the download to finish and install the update, you don’t need to use a computer at all and can be up and running with the newest OS in a short amount of time.

One important factor however is the solidity of your network connection. I have noticed that updates work best when done in close proximity to your router and connected to power. When the connection is not strong, the download may pause in order to await the full strength again. This can cause some corruption in the update if it does not download in one go. Often times the update can fail all together or have a very slow reboot after download. You may also notice erratic or sluggish behavior if the download has been corrupted somehow.

The likelihood of this happening is somewhat low as most connections in homes or offices are fairly strong yet if you have noticed erratic internet behavior in your main location, this is something to consider when updating. I have seen quite a few cases where a download took far too long due to a poor connection and consequentially the iPhone needed to be completely restored with iTunes. Ensure you have a good solid network connection before starting an update.

One last thing to keep fun mind with this over the air updates is your device’s battery life. You will want to ensure that you have a decent amount of charge left on the battery in order to accommodate the update time. It is advised to charge the unit during an update so power remains constant during the update. If you are out and about however, this may not be an option without an external battery so updating may be better saved for when you can connect to a power source.

Updating Through iTunes

When you are at home or at the office and are using the computer you frequently use iTunes on, this is a more secure and surefire way to ensure a successful download. iTunes is able to download and verify the update prior to you installing and you will also be able to do a quick iTunes backup if you are worried about your data.


By using iTunes to download your update, you are likely using a hardline network connection or a wi-fi connection and will be able to download the update. As with over the air, it is a good idea to ensure your connection is solid to your network and that you will not have any issues while downloading.

iTunes will always check for the newest version of iOS when you connect your device and even if you are not frequently syncing with this computer, it will still allow you to perform the update. There are fewer downsides to using iTunes for an update as it is a different type of package download through iTunes and does a self-validation before installing. You are also able to quickly sync any information that you may not have prior to the update and keep your data update to date in case of a crash.


With both update methods being readily available, it is truly up to the user and their convenience on when and how to perform them.

In my experience, using iTunes tends to be the most secure and quick way to update yet over the air is perfectly satisfactory as long as you have a backup and are sure about your connection.

Staying current with iOS is always recommended and Apple always supplies a list of update notes that will inform you of exactly what you are changing about your OS. There are usually bug fixes, security updates and specific changes implemented in these packages and it is advised to stay up to date for the best possible performance.

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