What to Do When Your iPhone Can't Update Apps

Updating apps on your iPhone are usually just a matter of tapping a few buttons. But in some rare situations, something goes wrong and your iPhone can't update apps. Tapping the Update button just doesn't do anything at all. If you're facing this problem and you know your Internet connection is working fine, don't worry: this article has 12 tips for how to solve it.

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Make Sure You're Using the Right Apple ID

iPhone can't update apps
image credit: Enis Aksoy/DigitalVision Vectors/Getty Images

If you can't update apps, the first thing you need to check is that you're using the right Apple ID. When you download an app, it becomes associated with the Apple ID you were using at the time you downloaded it. That means that to use that app on your iPhone, you need to be logged into that original Apple ID. 

On your iPhone, you can confirm what Apple ID was used to get an app by following these steps:

  1. Tap the App Store app
  2. Tap Updates
  3. Tap Purchased
  4. Check to see if the app is listed here. If not, it was likely downloaded with another Apple ID.

If you use iTunes, you can confirm what Apple ID was used to get an app by following these steps:

  1. Go to your list of apps
  2. Right click the app you're interested in
  3. Click Get Info
  4. Click the File tab
  5. Look at Purchased by for the Apple ID.

If you used another Apple ID in the past, try that one to see if it fixes your problem (more on logging into and out of an Apple ID on your iPhone in #3 on this list).

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Ensure Restrictions Are Off

disable app restrictions

The Restrictions feature of the iOS lets people (usually parents or corporate IT administrators) disable certain features of the iPhone. One of those features is the ability to download apps. So, if you can't install an update, it may be because the feature is blocked.

To check and turn off app restrictions, follow these steps:

  1. Tap Settings
  2. Tap General
  3. Tap Restrictions
  4. If prompted, enter your passcode
  5. Check the Installing Apps menu. If the slider is set to off/white then updating apps is blocked. Move the slider to on/green to restore the updating feature.
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Sign Out and Back In to the App Store

sign out of app store app

Sometimes, all you need to do to fix an iPhone that can't update apps is to sign into and out of your Apple ID. It's simple, but that can (almost magically) solve the problem. Here's what you need to do:

  1. Tap Settings
  2. Tap iTunes & App Store
  3. Tap the Apple ID menu
  4. In the pop-up menu, tap Sign Out
  5. Tap the Apple ID menu again and sign in with your Apple ID.
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Check Available Storage

check available storage

Here's a simple explanation: Maybe you can't install the app update because you don't have enough available storage space on your iPhone. If you've got very, very little free storage, the phone may not have the space it needs to perform the update and accommodate the new version of the app.

Check your free storage space by following these steps:

  1. Tap Settings
  2. Tap General
  3. Tap About
  4. Look for the Available line.

If your available storage is very low, try deleting some data you don't need like apps, photos, podcasts, or videos.

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Restart iPhone

reset iphone
When you see this screen, the iPhone is rebooting.

The single step that can cure many ills on the iPhone is to restart the device. Sometimes your phone just needs to be reset and when it's starting fresh, things that didn't work suddenly do, including updating apps. To restart your iPhone:

  1. Hold down the sleep/wake button 
  2. When the slider appears at the top of the screen, move it from left to right
  3. Let the iPhone turn off
  4. When it's off, hold down the sleep/wake button again until the Apple logo appears
  5. Let go of the button and let the phone start up as normal.
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Update to the Latest iOS

iOS update on iPhone

Another common solution to many problems is to ensure you're running the latest version of the iOS. This is particularly important when you can't update apps, since new versions of apps may require a newer version of the iOS than you have. Read the following articles to learn how to update the iOS on your iPhone:

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Change Date and Time Setting

automatically set iphone date and time

The date and time settings on your iPhone also influence whether it's able to update apps or not. The reasons for this are complex, but basically, your iPhone performs a number of checks when communicating with Apple's servers to do things like update apps and one of those checks is for date and time. If your settings are off, it can cause problems like not being able to update apps.

To solve this problem, set your date and time to be automatically set by following these steps:

  1. Tap Settings
  2. Tap General
  3. Tap Date & Time
  4. Move the Set Automatically slider to on/green.
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Delete and Reinstall the App

Rearrange iPhone apps

If nothing else has worked so far, try deleting and reinstalling the app. Sometimes an app just needs a fresh start and when you do this, you'll install the latest version of the app.

To learn more about deleting apps, read:

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Clear App Store Cache

clear app store cache

Just like your iPhone can benefit from a restart to clear its memory, the App Store app works the same way. The App Store app builds up a record of what you're doing in the app and stores that in a kind of memory called a cache. In some instances, the cache can prevent you from updating your apps.

To clear the cache (don't worry, emptying the cache won't cause you to lose any data), follow these steps:

  1. Tap the App Store app
  2. Tap any of the icons at the bottom of the app 10 times
  3. When you do this, the app appears to restart and takes you to the first tab. This signals that your cache is clear. 
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Update the App Using iTunes

Install apps via itunes

If an app won't update on your iPhone, try doing it through iTunes (assuming you use iTunes with your phone, that is). Doing this is pretty simple:

  1. On your computer, launch iTunes
  2. Select Apps from the drop-down menu at the top left 
  3. Click Updates just beneath the top window
  4. Single-click the icon of the app you want to update
  5. In the section that opens, click the Update button
  6. When the app has updated, sync your iPhone like normal and install the updated app.
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Reset All Settings

reset all iphone settings

If you still can't update apps, we're now getting into a slightly more drastic territory. That may be required if nothing else has worked yet. The first option here is to try resetting your iPhone's settings.

This won't delete any data from your phone. It just reverts some of your preferences and settings to their original states. Here's how to do it:

  1. Tap Settings
  2. Tap General
  3. Tap Reset
  4. Tap Reset All Settings
  5. You may be asked to enter your passcode. If you are, do so
  6. In the pop-up window, tap Reset All Settings.
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Restore iPhone to Factory Settings

Lastly, if nothing else has worked, it's time to try the most drastic step of all: deleting everything from your iPhone and setting it up from scratch.

To learn the steps for this, read How to Restore iPhone to Factory Settings.

After that's done, you may also want to restore your iPhone from backup.

If you've tried all of these steps and still can't update your apps, it's time to appeal to higher authority: Apple. Learn How to Make an Apple Genius Bar Appointment