How To Properly Upgrade to iOS 5 in Five Simple Steps

By Matthew Braga

From improved notifications to iMessage goodness, here's how to make your iOS 5 upgrade go smoothly the first time.

We've been putting the iOS 5 beta through its paces for the past few months. But today, the final release is available to all. Any device capable of running iOS 4 is eligible for an upgrade to iOS 5 — including the iPhone 3GS and third-generation iPod Touch.

If you've been waiting for improved notifications and iMessage goodness, this is your chance to see what you've been missing. But more important, here's how to make your upgrade go smoothly the first time.

1. Software Update

Before you begin, run software update on either your Mac or Windows PC. You'll need iTunes version 10.5 to make the latest iOS magic happen, and the upgrade won't work without it. While you're at it, feel free to update your apps as well. While you can certainly do so post-upgrade, you'll avoid any unforeseen compatibility problems by doing it before.

2. Make a Backup

To start, you'll want to perform a manual backup of your current iOS device. If you follow just one of our suggestions, it better be this. Should something go wrong during the upgrade process, you'll have a backup of settings and files to fall back on in a pinch.

Of course, the backup process is a long one to begin with, but there are ways to decrease the amount of time it takes. Pictures and videos stored in your camera roll are often the biggest culprits, so feel free to transfer these yourself. Removing particularly large files or unneeded apps beforehand is another smart practice. But keep in mind there's only so much you can do. From Safari browsing history to MMS attachements, iTunes simply has a lot of data to back up. Best let this process complete while you're out to lunch.

Finally, phone calls and text messages have the nasty habit of interrupting lengthy backups just as they near completion. To prevent upgrade issues and untimely snags, try placing your device in Airplane mode before you begin. Or better yet, remove your SIM card completely, if possible.

3. Encrypt Your Backup

You'll also have the ability to encrypt your iOS backup at this time. This option is visible under the "Backup" header when your device is plugged into iTunes. While an encrypted backup does take longer, you get the added benefit of having your various account and app passwords backed up as well. This might be useful for some, as you won't have to re-enter your passwords after your device has been restored.

Also, it's worth pointing out that backups can build up over time — and they do take up a considerable amount of space. If you want to remove past archives of your old iOS devices, and free up a couple gigabytes of space, you can find them in the following folder:

Mac: /Users/Tested/Library/Application Support/MobileSync/Backup/

Windows: C:\Users\Tested\AppData\Roaming\Apple Computer\MobileSync\Backup

4. Save Your Hashes

This next step is crucial for jailbreak users. If you haven't already, back up your blobs. If you have no clue what that means, read this post from the iPhone Dev-Team. Simply put, blobs, or signature hashes, allow iOS users to downgrade to previous firmware versions where jailbreaking is still possible. However, it's suspected this method of downgrading will no longer be possible post-iOS 5.

In other words, if you're interested in jail breaking, or retaining the ability to downgrade to iOS 4, download a copy of TinyUmbrella and backup your blobs.

5. Update to iOS 5

Finally, there is the iOS 5 upgrade process itself. In most cases, the actual install should be as simple as connecting your device and allowing iTunes to do its thing. This will perform what's called an in-place upgrade to iOS 5 — in other words, preserving all your file, settings and content as is. However, you also have the option of performing a restore upgrade. This route will wipe your device clean, allowing you to start your iOS 5 experience from scratch.

Of course, you can also do this process manually as well. By clicking Upgrade or Restore with the Option key held down (or ctrl for Windows users), you have the option of selecting a firmware file (*.ipsw) of your choosing. In most cases this won't be necessary, but it can be useful for performing firmware updates from multiple computers without having to download iOS 5 on each.

If all goes well, your iOS device should find itself running iOS 5. And if you'd like to take advantage of Apple's new wireless sync feature, you can activate this from iTunes before restoring all the content to your device. Just don't forget to let us know how your upgrade process goes.