Should I upgrade my iPhone 5S to iOS 9?

Patience is a virtue, and when it comes to software upgrades it might just save your sanity. In this edition of Ask Maggie, CNET's Marguerite Reardon explains why some owners should wait before they upgrade their devices to iOS 9.

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon
5 min read

The latest version of Apple's iOS operating system for iPhones and iPads is out in the wild. The early version of the software was released last week to the general public ahead of its official launch later this year. But is it really a good idea for the average Joe to download the software?

It seems that with every update of Apple's iOS software, anxious Apple fans worry about whether or when they should upgrade their devices. For the next iteration of iOS, Apple is giving the general public a peek at the next version of the software, iOS 9. At its Worldwide Developer Conference in June, the company announced that for the first time it was making the next version of iOS available early not just to software developers, but to everyone.

This early version of iOS, which may differ from the version released in the fall when the next iPhone launches, offers changes to Siri, improvements to the Maps app, and better search tools.

The changes have gotten high marks from reviewers, such as CNET's Jason Parker . But how will the upgrades fair on older devices, like the iPhone 5S? Is it a good idea to upgrade to the new software before the final version is released?

That's the question I answer in this edition of Ask Maggie.

Dear Maggie,

Is it safe to install iOS 9 on my iPhone 5s or iPad 2 or iPad Mini? I want to check out the new features, but don't want kill my devices. Let me know what you suggest.



Dear Karan,

I wouldn't say that upgrading to iOS 9 is "unsafe." Your devices won't explode if you update them. But there are a few things you need to keep in mind before you take the plunge.

Consumers can download an early version of the next version of iOS. CNET

In short, if you thought the last upgrade of iOS was too much of a headache for you to handle, then you might want to wait.

The version of iOS 9 that Apple released last week is considered a beta release of software. What that means is that it's not the final version of software. It's still in the testing phase, and Apple is using regular folks like you and me to test it out before it's tweaked and released to the public in its final version.

These beta or test versions of software are usually buggy. In fact, the whole point of releasing a "beta" version is to allow others to help find glitches so that Apple software engineers can fix the issues. My CNET Reviews colleague Jason Parker, who has been testing software for more than 15 years at CNET, has written a post specifically on this question of whether people should upgrade to iOS 9 now or wait. His suggestion is that being part of a beta trial is not for the faint of heart.

"If you're an experienced developer, running beta operating systems is old hat," he writes. "But if you're just an avid user, take a breath before you go and sign up for your chance at either beta: You may not be ready to run non-final software."

The fact that Apple has opened up the software to the masses while it's still in development is unusual for the company, whose hallmark is making sure its products offer consumers a great experience. Previously, Apple only released this test software to developers. Then the company would release the final version of the software to the general public. Even these software releases were still plagued with bugs.

Remember the upgrade to iOS 7? From a security flaw that allowed potential hackers to gain access to the contents of your phone via the lock screen to a bug that caused devices to constantly reboot, the upgrade to iOS 7 from iOS 6 in 2013 was a rough ride for many consumers. To be fair, iOS 7 was not just any upgrade. It was the biggest overhaul of the mobile operating system since it had launched in 2007. Still, you get the picture. Even upgrades to a final version of software do not always go smoothly.

This leads to my next bit of advice. Even when the final version of iOS 9 is released, you still may want to wait a few days or weeks before you upgrade. This is especially true if you have an older device, like the iPhone 5S and the iPad Mini and iPad 2 you mentioned. Why? Apple fans who have older products tend to report more problems following a software update than people using new devices.

Part of the problem is that many of the new features offered in a software update are often optimized for the latest and greatest technology. If you have a device that is two or three generations old, the software may not work as well on the hardware, simply because your device is using older hardware that is not optimized for the software. That said, Apple has been pretty good about making sure that the software will work on older-generation devices.

Still, Parker recommends that you exercise patience when iOS 9 is out of beta and released to the public.

"Apple has shown us that it might be good to wait for reviews (from customers) before pulling the trigger," he said. "For the most part, a final version should be OK. But waiting just a couple of days for others to test it, especially if you have an older phone, is probably a good idea."

What if you simply can't wait? I understand that waiting is hard. You want new features that allow you to switch between apps more easily, as well as an improved keyboard and the new battery-saving mode right now. I get it. If you simply can't wait until the final version of the software is released, Parker suggests upgrading an iPad rather than your iPhone.

The reason is simple. You don't want a software bug to gum up your iPhone, which you use everyday to communicate. Assuming you don't use your iPad as often, it still offers a good place to check out the new updates in iOS 9 without risking the loss of critical functions like text messaging on a device that you need almost as much as the air you breathe. If you must upgrade early, do it on one of the two iPads you mentioned.

Watch this: New hidden features inside iOS 9

The bottom line:

iOS 9 isn't likely to break your phone and it certainly won't make it self-destruct. But dealing with buggy software is no fun, especially if you're not a geeky software developer. So I would wait to upgrade your devices to the next version of iOS until it's fully baked. And even then, I'd wait at least a few days or maybe longer to see if there are additional kinks that need to be worked out.

And if you completely ignore my advice and upgrade your iPhone 5S anyway and realize that it has broken something important, fear not. CNET's Dan Graziano offers some advice in his how-to-video on how to get back to iOS 8 from iOS 9.

Good luck!

Ask Maggie is an advice column that answers readers' wireless and broadband questions. If you have a question, I'd love to hear from you. Please send me an e-mail at maggie dot reardon at cbs dot com. And please put "Ask Maggie" in the subject header. You can also follow me on Facebook on my Ask Maggie page.