Apple’s iOS 11 is the newest latest major release of the operating system that powers the iPhone and iPad, and it’s a significant change. Here are a few tips to make that upgrade and transition as smooth as possible – what to do before you upgrade, when you upgrade, and what to do if things go wrong after the upgrade.
Make sure your device works with iOS 11
Apple’s made a lot of significant changes with iOS 11. One of the biggest is support exclusively for 64-bit memory addressing. That requires a 64-bit processor inside the iPhone or iPad. Anything older than an iPhone 5S won’t do, including the iPhone 5C. Anything older than a fifth-generation iPad won’t make the cut. Various other devices are off the list too. Apple has the specs over at its website, at the iOS link (it’s down at the moment, or I’d embed it).
Also, bear in mind that this is irreversible. Apple stops “signing” old iOS packages as soon as the next stable build is out in the world. That keeps people from installing older versions of the operating system, and it’s one of the many reasons Apple has been able to force forward-migrations to new iOS releases in large percentages, compared to the fractured Android landscape.
Here’s the problem: There’s a difference between meeting the minimum system requirements for an operating system and running that OS optimally. Devices at the low end of Apple’s required system specs often feel excruciatingly slow after upgrading. As an example, the last major upgrade to my third-gen Retina iPad turned it into a doorstop. I wish I’d left it be – I might still be using it.
You won’t sacrifice anything to wait a few days or even weeks to find out if your older iPhone or iPad is better off running its current operating system. Let other people find out the hard way.
Let others fall on the early adopter sword
iOS 11 has been in developers’ hands since June and in the public’s hands almost as long thanks to Apple’s public beta testing program. Don’t let that give you a sense that everything is going to be running perfectly on day one, however. There will be problems. As big as that sample group is, it’s still well short of the general population for these devices. It will take a while for those warts to appear, and it’ll take time for Apple to fix them.
What’s more, some app developers are still ironing out compatibility issues. Some of us have also seen messages pop up on our iPhones and iPads indicating that some apps need to be updated (because of that 64-bit issue I mentioned). Ignore those messages at your peril, because those apps won’t work with iOS 11.
Unless this is your business, you probably don’t have a compelling reason to upgrade on the first day of availability. You may want to wait a few days and look at how other people are doing with the upgrade before you leap. You may also want to check with app developers whose software you rely on to make sure they’ve got iOS 11-compatible or optimized builds ready to go.
Back up, please
More than anything, I want to emphasize how important it is to just simply backup your device before you upgrade. A lot of us don’t backup regularly, and that’s a mistake. You can backup using iCloud Backup, accessible from the iCloud system preference on your iPhone or iPad.
If you’re not using iCloud or don’t have space to spare for a backup, you can also use your computer. Macs and PCs alike will work through iTunes. Connect the Lightning cable you use for charging to an open USB port on the computer, launch iTunes, and back up. If you’re doing it this way, a word of advice especially for Apple Watch users and other fitness buffs: To save your Health and Activity data, you’ll need to encrypt your backup as well.
You can follow these instructions at Apple’s website for the full details on backing up.
Back up in two places for added security
I’m a big believer in backup redundancy – I want my files in at least two locations. In case something happens to the first backup, you’ll have a safe second backup somewhere else. The idea is to have both a local backup – the backup you’ve created on your Mac or PC using iTunes – and a remote backup stored offsite, away from your gear. That’s why I combine iCloud Backup with a local, encrypted backup stored on my computer. (I encrypt the local backup so I can restore Health and Activity data, which I track with my Apple Watch.
Upgrade on your computer, not over the air
Apple offers over the air updates to iPhone and iOS users. You simply tap a button and begin the upgrade process. Here’s the problem – especially on the first day of release, that can be slow. And it’s an additional layer of potential problems because you’re introducing Wi-Fi into the mix. What’s more, iOS needs a lot of space to install over the air, since it has to download to the phone, replace the existing operating system, then purge the old files afterward.
That’s why I prefer to update using iTunes on my Mac to manage the upgrade, tethered to the iPhone or iPad using its Lightning cable. If you’re tight on space on your device, this is the way to go. That’s because unlike the over the air method I just described, you don’t need any extra scratch space on your iPhone or iPad. Since iTunes is handling the update, your phone doesn’t need cache space to manage the update itself.
Secondly, it’s a direct, wired connection to the phone. The computer downloads the iOS upgrade package and handles the device upgrade over the Lightning cable – a faster way to get the information there than Wi-Fi. It’s just one less place for things to go wrong.
Make sure if you use the tethered technique I’ve just described that you do so on a flat surface. If you’re using your laptop on your lap or another unsteady surface, it’s very easy to jostle the Lightning cable just enough to interrupt the upgrade. That can “brick” your phone, setting it to what Apple calls Device Firmware Upgrade (DFU) Mode – which will make it useless until you (or an Apple Store genius) get the new OS on there.
If things get weird after the upgrade, restore from backup
Replacing your entire operating system can be a traumatic process for the device. If there are any underlying issues with software or configurations, they’re likely to come up during or after an upgrade. Sometimes apps don’t work right and crash; sometimes they take forever to open, or there is weirdness with how they’re working. When these sorts of problems happen, it’s a good idea to restore from your backup.
Restoring from backup replaces the data on your phone with a fresh copy of data, and that can sometimes be enough to iron out issues. It’s often one of the first troubleshooting steps I take if I’m asked to fix an iOS device that is having problems (OS upgrade or not), and it often works.