iOS 6 has arrived, and eager users everywhere are getting ready to upgrade their devices. If you’re concerned about the upgrade process, or simply want to know all your setup options before making the big switch, we’re here to help you upgrade your iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad to iOS 6 with this step-by-step guide.
What devices will run iOS 6?
Before we get into the upgrade process itself, you’ll want to make sure you actually have a compatible device. Specifically, thanks to particular hardware requirements, Apple has limited the operating system to the following models:
- iPhone Models: iPhone 3GS and later
- iPad Models: second generation and later
- iPod touch Models: fourth generation and later
If you have an earlier model of any of these products, you’ll have to stick with your current version of iOS.
Certain older devices that can run iOS 6 may not be able to use all of the features available in the new OS on a new iPhone or iPad. Specifically, the turn-by-turn navigation feature of the new Maps app are only available on the iPhone 4S or later and the iPad 2 or later; FaceTime over cellular networks and Siri are available on only the iPhone 4S or later and the third-generation or later iPad; and Safari’s offline Reading List feature is available on only the iPhone 4 or later and the iPad 2 or later.
Once you’ve double-checked that your device is capable of running iOS 6, here’s what you need to upgrade:
- Your iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad;
- If you’re installing wirelessly, a valid Wi-Fi connection;
- If you’re installing via iTunes, your computer and the latest version of iTunes (which you can download from Apple’s website).
We also suggest that you make a backup of your device before proceeding: If you’re doing a straight update, a backup prevents you from losing any data in case something goes wonky down the line. And if you’re doing a full restore of your device before you install iOS 6, you’ll need a recent backup from which to recover your information.
To make a backup using your computer, connect your device to your computer using a USB-to-dock-connector cable, open iTunes, select your device on the left, and then click the Sync button in the bottom-right corner of the iTunes window. This should automatically update your iTunes backup. If your device is already plugged into your computer, you can just Control-click (or right-click) the device in the iTunes source list on the left and choose Back Up from the pop-up menu that appears.
If your device is configured to back up to iCloud (in the iCloud screen of the Settings app), you can force a backup by going to the iCloud screen, tapping Storage & Backup (near the bottom of the screen), and then tapping Back Up Now (again, near the bottom of the screen). However, even if your device is configured to back up to iCloud, you can still connect it to your computer via a USB cable and manually force a local backup: Just right-click the device in iTunes’s source list and choose Back Up. A local backup is much faster to restore from if something should go wrong.
Update your device
There are two ways to update your iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch to iOS 6: over the air (meaning over a local Wi-Fi network) or from your computer. Over-the-air updates are easier, assuming you have a reliable Wi-Fi network, but tethered updates are a bit safer. (If you want to restore your device—meaning do a fresh install of iOS 6 and then, optionally, restore your apps, settings, and other data—skip to “Restore instead of update,” below.)
Install iOS 6 over the air If you’ve used an iOS device before, you’re probably familiar with the process of downloading app updates from the App Store app: When a little red badge appears on the App Store icon, you open the App Store app, navigate to the Updates tab, and download your app updates. The Software Update process for iOS 6 is similar, although instead of going to the App Store, you use the Settings app.
As with the App Store, iOS devices running iOS 5 or later periodically check for new iOS updates; when one is available, a red badge appears on the Settings app. To download the update, open the Settings app and navigate to General -> Software Update. There you see some brief information about the update and a button to install it. (If you know an update is available, but you don’t yet see the red badge on the Settings app, navigating to this Software Update screen forces iOS to check for updates.)
To avoid the risk of your device shutting down before installation is complete, the device must have at least 50 percent of its battery capacity remaining, or be connected to a power source, to install an update over the air.
Note that iOS updates installed in this manner are called delta updates, because they contain only the parts of the operating system that have changed between the new version and the version of iOS your device is currently running. This means delta updates are much smaller than full updates, so you can download them just about anywhere you have a decent Wi-Fi connection.
Install iOS 6 from your computer If you’re not feeling adventurous, you may prefer to install software updates the old-fashioned way: over a USB connection with your computer. No problem: Just connect your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch to your computer using the standard USB-to-dock-connector cable and then check for an iOS update using iTunes.
The first time you open iTunes with a iOS 6-compatible device connected to your computer, you should be prompted to download iOS 6. However, this may not happen automatically—for example, Apple rolls out updates gradually, so your computer may not yet have been notified of the update’s availability. If you know iOS 6 is available but iTunes hasn’t prompted you to download it, you can force iTunes to check for an update by clicking the Check For Update button in iTunes’s Summary screen for your device.
Once you instruct iTunes to download iOS 6, it should begin downloading iOS 6 from Apple’s servers. You can perform other tasks while waiting for the download to finish; once it does, your device will restart and begin installing the software. Once the update is complete, you’ll see a message that your device has been updated and is restarting. All your data and apps should be preserved after the restart—you’ll simply have a shiny new version of iOS.
The post-update walkthrough
After the update has finished and your device has restarted, the remainder of the process is fairly simple. In fact, regardless of which method you used, over the air or iTunes, you can set everything up directly on your device itself—no computer intervention is necessary.
First you’re greeted with a welcome screen that says, “Update Completed”; click Continue to proceed.
Next you’re asked if you’d like to enable Location Services. This allows apps (from both Apple and third-party developers) to access your location via Wi-Fi networks, cellular-data towers, and your GPS (Global Positioning System) location. (Even if you enable this option, you’re given the chance to approve or deny each app’s access to your location.) Choose Enable Location Services or Disable Location Services and then tap Next
After that, your device will check for any Wi-Fi networks in the area for you to connect to; if there aren’t any, or if you’re on an iPhone or 3G-enabled iPad and would rather use your cellular service, just tap the Next button.
You’ll then be asked to associate an Apple ID.
Associate an Apple ID The next step is to to associate your Apple ID with this device for use with iCloud, iMessage, and FaceTime. (You can use a different Apple ID for purchasing content from the App Store, iTunes Store, and iBookstore—you enter that ID and password separately, in the Store screen of Settings.) Chances are, your Apple ID will already be listed here; you’ll just need to enter your password. Tap Next to continue.
What’s an Apple ID? If you’ve ever purchased something from the iTunes Store, you have an Apple ID—it’s usually the email address you used to sign up. Your iCloud (nee, MobileMe) email address and password can also be used here.
If you don’t have an Apple ID, it’s easy enough to create one by tapping the Create A Free Apple ID button. You’ll need to enter your birthday, name, your email address (or create a new iCloud email address), a password, a security question (in case you forget your password), and whether you’d like to receive email updates from Apple.
If you’d rather not set up an Apple ID, you can tap the Skip This Step link. You can always add or create one later (in the Settings app), but note that you won’t be able to buy anything on the iTunes Store or set up iCloud until you have an ID.
Set Up iCloud Assuming your Apple ID is also your iCloud account, entering your Apple ID requires you to agree to the iCloud Terms and Conditions. (If you don’t want to read them here, you can tap the Send By Email button to send the full text to yourself.) You then see a message that your iCloud settings are being updated, and then a Thank You screen with a button to Start Using [iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch].
If your Apple ID isn’t the same as your iCloud account, you’ll be asked to enable iCloud on your device by providing your iCloud username and password, or by creating an iCloud account. (iCloud allows you to sync your photos, apps, contacts, calendars, email and more across multiple devices.) You’re then asked whether you’d like to enable iCloud backups for your device. If you do so, you can have your device back up all essential settings to your iCloud account; if you ever need to restore, you can do so over Wi-Fi without connecting to a computer. (You can also elect to have your device back up to your computer using iTunes.) Additionally, you’ll be asked whether you’d like to opt-in to iCloud’s Find My [Device] service. This will enable location monitoring, allowing you to find a lost or stolen device using your Apple ID and the Find My iPhone app.
Once you finish the setup process, you see a screen asking if your device can automatically send diagnostic and usage information to Apple to “help Apple improve its products and services.” Choose Automatically Send or Don’t Send and then tap Next, and you see the aforementioned Start Using [Device] screen. Congratulations! You’re ready to begin using iOS 6.
Restore instead of update
If your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch has been acting a bit wonky, or if you’d just like to start from scratch, you can restore your device instead of updating it. Restoring erases the device, installs a fresh install of iOS 6, and then, optionally, restores your apps, settings, and other data.
To restore, you need to use iTunes on your computer. Connect your device to your computer using the standard USB-to-dock-connector cable, and then update your local backup, as described above. But instead of clicking the Check For Update button, click the Restore button. This will make iTunes download iOS 6, as described above, but instead of performing an in-place update, iTunes erases the device and installs the new OS with factory-default settings. At the end of the process, you’ll be asked if you want to restore data from a backup. (See “The post-restore walkthrough,” next.)
The post-restore walkthrough
If you used iTunes to restore your device rather than update it—meaning you erased the device and installed iOS 6, so you’re starting from a clean slate—the next step is to decide whether you want to set up your device as a new device, restore it from an iTunes backup, or restore it from an iCloud backup.
Using iTunes: Restore from Backup If after restoring you keep your iOS device connected to iTunes, you see a screen asking if you want to set up your device as a new device or restore it from a local backup. (You can’t restore from an iCloud backup from within iTunes; see “Using iCloud: Restore from Backup,” below.)
To restore from a backup, so your device has all your data, apps, and settings, choose Restore From The Backup Of and then use the pop-up menu to choose the desired backup. Click continue, and iTunes will restore that data; after the restore completes, you’ll need to let iTunes sync with the device to restore your apps, music, photos, and other iTunes-synced data.
Once that process finishes, the setup procedure will resume as if you’d updated iOS over the air: First you choose and connect to a local Wi-Fi network; then you choose whether or not to enable Location Services; and then you provide your Apple ID and password. (Your Apple ID will likely already be listed; you simply enter your password.)
Using iTunes: Set Up as a New Device If you truly want to start from scratch, instead Choose Set Up As A New [Device]. You’ll be asked to give your device a name and then choose whether to automatically sync songs and videos, photos, and/or apps to your device. Make your selections and click Done and iTunes will perform its first sync. Once that process is complete, the setup process will continue—on your iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch—just as if you’d performed an in-place update.
Using iCloud: Restore from Backup If you disconnect your newly restored device from iTunes, you perform the rest of the setup procedure on the device itself. First you choose and connect to a local Wi-Fi network; then you choose whether or not to enable Location Services.
The next screen gives you three choices: You can set up as a new device (in which case the steps are roughly the same as if you chose this option in iTunes); restore from an iTunes backup (in which case you connect the device to your computer to see the Set Up Your [Device] screen shown above); or restore from an iCloud backup. This last option, available only if you have an iCloud account and you previously backed up this device to iCloud, lets you restore that data directly to your device without having to connect to a computer.
To do so, choose Restore From iCloud Backup, tap Next, and then enter your iCloud Apple ID and password. Agree to the iCloud terms and conditions by tapping Agree (twice), and your device will display all compatible iCloud-hosted backups. Choose the desired backup—be sure to pick the correct one, as the list may include backups for other devices you own—and tap Restore. Then it’s time to wait: The process can take anywhere from a few minutes to many hours, depending on how many apps you had installed and how much data was stored in those apps. (Restoring from an iTunes backup is much faster than restoring from iCloud, which is why many people back up to iTunes periodically even if they normally back up to iCloud.)
When the restore is finished, you’re device will restart and you’ll see a screen explaining that you have a few more steps to follow—but it’s generally only one: Tap Continue and then re-enter your Apple ID’s password; you see a message that your iCloud settings are being updated, and then a screen with a button to Start Using [Device]. After that, your purchased apps and media will restore over the Wi-Fi connection. You may be asked—again—to enter your Apple ID and password, but otherwise you’ll be ready to go once the restore process finishes.