What do phone updates achieve?

What do phone updates achieve?

Periodically, your smartphone will announce it needs an important update (the word important is usually used, to generate a sense of urgency).

The device might suggest installing this update at night, and it’ll usually only take place if the battery has a reasonable amount of charge on it.

These updates are a minor inconvenience, though it’s always possible to reschedule them.

But what do phone updates actually accomplish, and are they worth bothering with?

Safety first

Operating system updates primarily tackle newly discovered security threats.

Given the importance of smartphones in our lives, criminals are constantly probing for weaknesses and vulnerabilities in both manufacturer hardware and operating systems.

Zero day attacks are developed and launched within hours, requiring a rapid response.

At the same time, ethical hackers may also identify flaws or weaknesses in software architecture.

Google and Apple have an obligation to patch these flaws as quickly as possible, though Apple’s job is easier since they own all their hardware and software.


Google’s Android platform is used by dozens of manufacturers, across hundreds of handsets with different chipsets and CPUs.

Standardising phone updates across Android devices is challenging, and some revisions relate to the handset manufacturer’s proprietary software – another potential source of danger.

There are numerous versions of Android in circulation, from the latest Pie to earlier iterations like Jellybean and Kitkat.

Only certain handsets get the newest version of Android by default – Google’s own Pixel phones are sold with Pie, whereas budget units deploy previous generations of Android.

To check whether your device has the latest patches and security installed, go to Settings and either go to the Advanced subpage, or choose Software Update.

It’s advisable to permit automatic downloads, rather than rescheduling (and then forgetting about) them.

Equally, individual apps can be granted permission to revise themselves from the Google Play Store app.

In the drop-down Menu > Settings folder, ensure Auto-update Apps is set to Over WiFi Only, to prevent major file downloads munching through mobile data.


Once a year, Apple launches a revised version of iOS.

However, rolling updates are released far more frequently (and unpredictably).

Going to Settings > General reveals the Software Update sub-menu, though the most recent iOS 12 version mirrors Android’s ability to automatically apply patches overnight.

The device must be on standby, plugged into a mains charger and connected to WiFi before an update can occur.

Apple’s tightly-controlled operating system is less prone to malware and hacks than the Linux-based Android OS, but threats still exist.

Owners of iOS devices will also periodically notice a red dot over the App Store icon containing a number. This is the number of installed apps requiring modification.

Other benefits

Phone updates achieve other fringe benefits, some of which may not be visible to end users but would still improve operational efficiency or the performance of third-party apps.

Individual apps might receive new features, such as split-screen YouTube viewing or extra functionality in workplace tools.

Google and Apple are encouraging healthier relationships with our phones, so a recent iOS refresh introduced a Screen Time mode to track daily usage of the phone and specific apps.

However, the biggest benefits come from installing the latest version of the OS – Android Pie and iOS 12.1.4.

This will ensure your device has optimal security and the latest consumer features, from automatic form filling to timeouts for over-used apps.

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