You need to update your computer regularly to ensure it runs smoothly and reliably — and the same goes for your smartphone. But what can you do if you can’t update your iPhone or Android software? Read on to learn how to update iOS or Android on your smartphone and what you can do if you run into issues. You’ll also discover how Avira Antivirus Security for Android and Avira Mobile Security for iOS can help you free up storage space again on your device for updates to make it more secure.
Why software updates are so important
Regularly updating your smartphone’s software ensures you always enjoy the latest features, fix bugs, and close dangerous security holes. Cybercriminals often exploit these weak points to inject malware into your device. If such security holes are discovered, the manufacturer issues security updates to close — or in technical terms, patch — them as soon as possible.
Skipping software updates — which are also known as system updates — poses a security risk and can also mean that your smartphone and your apps will stop working smoothly.
A software update brings your iOS or Android operating system up to date. The degree to which this happens depends on the update in question. When publishing their software updates, manufacturers typically say which errors are fixed, which security holes are closed, and which new features and enhancements you can now enjoy.
iPhone software updates — Apple’s closed system
As a closed system, iOS not only offers less attack surface — meaning the number of all possible points an unauthorised user can access the system and extract data — but also the advantage that updates are immediately available to all iPhone users. iPhone software updates fall into three categories: Updates to major versions, such as iOS 16, appear once a year in September and can include significant upgrades and change the entire system. Smaller bug fixes or security patches are released several times throughout the year. These often only contain bug fixes or security patches and at most minor new features. They are then numbered consecutively, for example iOS 16.0.1, iOS 16.02, or iOS 16.03.
The interim versions are released up to seven times a year and may contain a wider range of new features as well as bug fixes and security patches. You can identify them based on their numbering, which in our example is iOS 16.1. In turn, this number is followed by more minor bug fixes (iOS 16.1.1, iOS 16.1.2, etc.). The current system version for iPhones is iOS 16.6 (as at August 2023), but iOS 17 will soon follow.
Apple generally supports its iPhones for at least five years, providing security patches for at least that long. The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus (release September 2014) received their last software update in 2019, and support for the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus (released September 2015) ended in September 2022 — a good seven years after the phones’ initial launch.
However, anyone who uses an older iPhone will sooner or later run into issues not only with their system software but also with many of their smartphone’s apps. That’s because the apps stop supporting older operating system versions after a few years and older app versions no longer get updated.
Find out which iPhone model you have and what iOS version it’s running by opening the Settings app, tapping General, and then selecting About.
Android software updates — Google’s open system
Unlike Apples iOS, Android — Google’s operating system and software platform — is an open-source system that many manufacturers use, modify, and build upon. This means the availability of Android software updates varies depending on the manufacturer, device, and sometimes even mobile phone provider. Since each manufacturer is responsible for updating its operating system itself, Google only provides updates — known as Pixel updates — for its own smartphones such as the Google Pixel. Otherwise, Google sends updates to manufacturers like Samsung, Sony, Xiaomi, Huawei, or Oppo.
These manufacturers then modify the Android software, overlay their own user interface, change the design, or add features to improve compatibility with their devices or to make the device unique in some way as a USP. These modifications are also referred to as manufacturer skins. In some cases, mobile phone providers that sell Android smartphones also modify stock Android versions.
Like Apple, Google also releases a new major Android version once a year in the summer/autumn — like the upcoming version 14, which contains extensive improvements, bug fixes, security patches, and an overhauled user interface (and which until version 10 was always named internally after a dessert like Marshmallow or Nougat).
Since Android 10, there have only been very few intermediate versions, the last being 12 L or 12.1. Every three months, Google also publishes its Pixel Feature Drops with new features exclusively for its own smartphones, tablets, watches, and buds. Google provides security patches once a month, although the manufacturers do not always pass them on right away.
It depends on the manufacturer as to when the latest Android update will be available in the UK and when you can update your Android version. Android 6.0 and 6.0.1 (Marshmallow), for example, was released by Google in the autumn of 2015, but Samsung only offered it for Galaxy smartphones in the UK in the summer of 2016.
This makes it all the more important to kit out your Android smartphone with good virus protection. Avira Antivirus Security helps you protect yourself from mobile threats but also includes a VPN for anonymous surfing as well as tune-up utilities and other handy tools.
To deliver updates faster and more reliably, and to tackle the fragmented nature of updates, Google launched Project Mainline — aka Google Play system updates — in 2019. This was a continuation of Project Treble, which made deep-rooted changes to the Android system architecture in 2017. Since Android 10, key security patches are downloaded and installed automatically via the Google Play Store by default, irrespective of the device manufacturer. These updates contain security-relevant components and modules, and are distributed several times a month for specific subsections of the operating system. They now also include updates for the Google Play Store and Google Play Services, and are divided into different categories. Also referred to simply as Google system updates, they’re separate to version updates and security patches.
Most manufacturers support major version updates for two to three years, which isn’t particularly long compared to Apple. Google itself currently supports major version updates for at least three years, Samsung for four years since 2022, and Oppo for three to four years — with security patches often provided for Android devices for up to a further 12 to 18 months.
By the way, from 2025 the EU Commission is planning to make it mandatory for smartphone and tablet manufacturers to offer software updates and security patches for at least five years following the launch of a device, which is why the situation may then also improve for Android users.
You can find out which device model you have and which Android version it’s running by opening the Settings app. Depending on your device and model, tap About phone, Device information, About phone or About device, and then, if necessary, tap Software information or Android version. The version name usually refers to the manufacturer’s modified Android user interface, which has its own name. These include One UI (Samsung), MIUI (Xiaomi), ColorOS (Oppo), Sony UI, or EMUI (Huawei).
How long does it take to update your smartphone’s software?
This can vary depending on the scope or size of the update and how fast your internet connection is. Smaller updates only take a few minutes; larger ones can sometimes take up to 30 minutes. During the process, never use, turn off, or restart your smartphone. Once the update has been downloaded and installed, your device will usually restart automatically.
After updating your smartphone software, update all your apps to avoid compatibility issues.
How to tell if your smartphone needs an update
If you find your smartphone getting slower and slower, no longer works properly, or even crashes, this could be a sign that you need to update it. But even if your smartphone (still) works perfectly, you should check regularly to see if a new software update is available or, ideally, configure your device to download and install software updates automatically.
Update iOS and turn on automatic updates
In the Settings app on your iPhone, go to General and tap Software Update to see if a new update is available. If one is, install it right away. If you turn on Automatic Updates there, you can choose whether you just want iOS updates to be downloaded automatically or have them installed right away. When this setting is turned on, your iPhone will download updates and install them overnight while it’s charging and connected to a Wi-Fi network as soon as an update is available. You’ll be notified before the update is installed, so you can take any necessary steps.
By the way, Avira Mobile Security’s iOS updater shows you when a new software update is available — saving you the hassle of having to check yourself.
Update Android and turn on automatic updates
You’ll usually be notified as soon as a new update is available. You can then simply tap the notification and follow the instructions or update your Android software later. In this case, tap System or System and updates in the Settings app and then search for or tap directly on System update or Software update. The menu and names differ depending on your device and model. In some cases, the software update can also be found under Device info, Device information, or Update centre.
This section usually also contains the option to turn on automatic updates, often called Automatically download over Wi-Fi or Automatic download over Wi-Fi. Depending on your device, you might find additional options to turn on software updates automatically via mobile data (Over network, Anytime) and overnight.
Reasons why you can’t update your system software
Here’s a list of the most common reasons as to why you can’t update your iPhone or Android software. The following two sections then explain the best way to deal with a lack of storage space on your Android device or iPhone.
- Obsolete device: As described above, older smartphone models will eventually stop receiving software updates at some point, which is why you won’t be able to update your device. To check if your smartphone is still compatible and supports the latest software version, visit your device manufacturer’s website.
- Unstable or slow internet connection/network issues: If your Wi-Fi or mobile network connection is unstable, you may not be able to update your device. If so, try again later, use a different network, or disconnect and reconnect.
- Data volume used up: If you intend to update your software by downloading the update via your mobile network, first check to see you’ve got enough mobile data left in your plan — after all, updates can often eat up several hundred megabytes to a few gigabytes of data. Since iOS 15.4, iPhone users have been able to do this — but if you want to conserve your data allowance, only install updates over Wi-Fi.
- Battery level too low: Since software updates really sap your device’s energy, make sure you connect your smartphone to a power source during this time, especially if an update will be downloaded and installed overnight or if your battery level is below 60%.
- Lack of storage space: The sheer size of software updates can cause another issue: If your device is short on space, you won’t be able to download the update in the first place. But there is a solution. Read on to learn how to free up space again on your iPhone or Android device.
What to do if you can’t update your iPhone
If your iPhone is running low on the space needed to download the update, it will delete items such as unused apps, the local cache for files in your iCloud Drive, temporary and cached files, and the system cache automatically. However, if even that’s not enough to successfully download and install the iPhone software update, you should free up some storage space.
In the Settings app, go to General > iPhone Storage for recommendations on how to free up storage space. You can offload unused apps there and turn on iCloud Photos, which uploads your entire library of photos and videos to iCloud automatically. You can store up to 5 GB of data in your iCloud account for free, after which you’ll need to take out a paid iCloud+ subscription.
You can also use the iPhone Storage menu to check which photos, videos, and attachments in Messages are eating up the most space and delete them if necessary. It’s best to transfer photos, videos, and files to your computer and/or back up your iPhone beforehand. The bottom section of the iPhone Storage menu lists all your installed apps with info on how much storage space they’re consuming.
WhatsApp and other messenger apps in particular are real storage hogs, which you can clean up via WhatsApp’s settings menu under Storage and Data > Manage Storage. Read here how a thorough iPhone clean-up will release space for your iPhone software update and make your smartphone run faster and more smoothly.
By the way, Avira Mobile Security can help you clean up your photos. Its built-in photo cleaner finds duplicates so you can delete them. You can also use the device scanner to take a look at how much of your iPhone’s memory and storage space is being used. The app also includes a VPN — a tool which allows you to encrypt everything you send and receive online to surf more securely and anonymously, even on unsecured Wi-Fi networks.
How to update your iPhone using your Mac or PC
Since an update requires temporary storage space both while it’s downloading from Apple’s update servers and for the installation process, you can also update your iPhone using your Mac or PC if your device is short on storage space. This means that the installation files are not cached on your iPhone, but on your Mac or PC (and then deleted automatically again). Updating via your computer can also help with other software update issues.
To do this, connect your iPhone to your PC or Mac using a USB cable and, depending on your device, proceed as follows:
On a Mac running macOS Catalina 10.15 and newer
- Open the Finder window and select your iPhone in the left sidebar.
- Click General, then Check for Updates.
- Click Download and Update and follow the instructions.
On a Mac running macOS Mojave 10.14 and earlier or on a Windows PC
- Open iTunes and click the iPhone icon in the top left.
- Click Overview and then click Check for Updates.
- Click Update to install the update.
- Click the Eject icon in the top left before disconnecting your device from your computer.
How to delete and reload your iPhone software update
If your software update downloaded but failed to install and you’ve already tried other troubleshooting measures, you can delete the update from your smartphone and try again.
- In the Settings app, tap General and then Storage.
- Look for the update in the apps listed.
- Tap the update and then tap Delete Update.
- In the Settings app, tap General followed by Software Update and download the update again.
What to do if you can’t update your Android device
Want to update your Android version but don’t have enough storage space? To do so — again depending on the device — check in the Settings app under Storage, Manage storage, Clean up storage, or Device maintenance to see if your smartphone offers storage optimisation features like disable apps or find large files and give them a go.
You might also find a tool to free-up storage space. Turn on the Smart Storage feature, and photos and videos that are over 60 days old and which have already been saved to Google Photos, meaning uploaded to Google’s cloud, will be deleted automatically from your device’s internal storage space. Google’s cloud service is called Google Drive — you get up to 15 GB of storage space as standard with your Google account. If you want more, you can pay for a Google One subscription. Alternatively, you can usually also move your files to your smartphone manufacturer’s cloud to free up storage space on your smartphone.
To get going with decluttering your smartphone, also check out the Storage section on your Android smartphone. There you’ll see detailed info on the storage space used by each category (apps, images, videos, audio, downloads) both in terms of your device’s internal memory and, if you have one, on the microSD card.
Read our blogpost on how to show your phone some TLC and give it a good clean to release loads of storage space again.
The quickest and easiest way to clean up your device is using Avira Antivirus Security. The app helps you find and delete duplicate, cache, and junk files and terminates unnecessary processes in the memory to improve your phone’s performance. And as mentioned, you also get to enjoy virus protection, a VPN, and many other features with the app.
Tip: With the tune-up utilities included with Avira Free Security for Mac and Windows devices, you can also free up more space on your computer. The Windows solution also includes a utility called Software updater so you can optimize your device’s performance and close security holes in programmes with just a few clicks.
How to update your Android phone via your Mac or PC
You can also update Android via your PC or Mac, if you can’t update the software on your smartphone. To do this, connect your smartphone to your computer using a USB cable and use the appropriate software utility from your device manufacturer. Google’s tool is called Pixel Update and Software Repair, Samsung’s is Smart Switch, Sony’s is Xperia Companion, Xiaomi’s is called Mi PC Suite, Huawei’s tool is HiSuite, and Oppo’s is called System Upgrade Tool.
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