Why Can't I Upgrade My iPad?

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Getty Images / Mauro Grigollo

Are you having trouble upgrading to the latest version of iOS?  Apple puts out a new version of the iPad's operating system each year.  These updates include new features, bug fixes and improved security.   There are two common reasons why an iPad can't be updated to the latest version of the operating system.  Unfortunately, only one of them is easily solved.

The most common reason is storage space.  

Apple changed the way it updates the operating system with a recent release, allowing the upgrade to be made with a smaller amount of free storage space.

 But you still may need up to 2 GB of free space to swap out the operating system, so if you are running close to the edge in terms of space, you won't see the option to download. Instead, you'll see a link to your iPad's usage.   This is Apple's not-so-friendly way of telling you to trim some of the apps, music, movies or photos from your iPad before upgrading.  

Luckily, this is relatively easy to solve.  Most of us have some apps or games that were neat months (or even years) ago, but we don't use anymore.  You can delete an app by holding your finger on the app icon for several seconds until the app begins shaking and then tapping the 'x' button in the corner.  

You can also move photos and videos to your PC.  Videos can take up a surprisingly large amount of space.  If you want to keep access to them on your iPad, you can copy them to a cloud storage solution like Dropbox.  Or even upload photos to Flickr.

   

Read: Tips on Freeing Up Storage Space on the iPad

You may also need to charge your iPad to upgrade.

If your iPad is below 50% battery life, you will not be able to upgrade the iPad without plugging it into a power source.  Connecting it to a computer is fine, but the best way to charge up the iPad is to use the AC adapter that came with the tablet and connect it directly to a wall outlet.

 

The iPad now has the ability to upgrade during the night, which is a great option if you don't want to be out of commission while the iPad upgrades to the new operating system.  Unfortunately, there is no way to choose this option.  You must wait for the iPad to pop up the "new update is available" message and then choose the "Later" option.

Another common reason is the original iPad.  

Each year, Apple releases a new lineup of iPads to go along with the new operating system.  For most people, the new operating system is compatible with their existing iPad, so there is no need to upgrade the tablet itself.  However, Apple stopped supporting the original iPad a few years ago.  This means you will need at least an iPad 2 in order to upgrade the iPad to the latest version of iOS.  All versions of the iPad Mini are also supported.  

This not only means those early adopters cannot download the latest operating system, it also means many apps will not be compatible with the iPad.   For apps that were released while the original iPad was still widely supported, you can still download the last compatible version from the App Store, but it may not be quite as functional as later versions.  And because many new apps take advantage of the newest additions to iOS, many of those will not run on the original iPad.

  

Why can't the original iPad run the latest version of iOS?

While Apple isn't giving any answers, the likely reason why the original iPad is locked out from upgrading to the newest version of iOS is a memory issue. While most people are aware of the storage capacity of the different iPad models, each generation also has a certain amount of memory (called RAM) dedicated to running applications and hosting the operating system.

For the original iPad, this was 256 MB of memory. The iPad 2 raised this to 512 MB and the third generation iPad has 1 GB. The iPad Air 2 raised this to 2 GB in order to provide smooth multitasking on the iPad.  The amount of memory required by iOS grows with each new major release, and with iOS 6.0, Apple decided developers needed more elbow room than the original iPad's 256 MB of RAM provided, so the original iPad is no longer supported.

So what is the solution for the original iPad?  Can I upgrade the RAM?

The unfortunate truth is that the original iPad cannot be upgraded to become compatible with the latest version of the operating system.   The 256 MB of memory cannot be upgraded, and even if it could, most new apps aren't tested on the original iPad's processor, which could make them painfully slow.   

The best solution is to upgrade to a newer model of the iPad.  Believe it or not, you can still get a little money for the original iPad by selling it or even using a trade-in program.  While it may not run the latest apps, it does function fine for web browsing even if it can't browse the web as fast as a newer model.   As for those newer models, the entry-level iPad Mini 2 is $269 brand new from Apple and as low as $229 for a refurbished model.  And the refurbished models sold from Apple have the same one-year warranty as a new iPad.  You can also take the opportunity to upgrade to the iPad Air 2 or the newer iPad Pro, which means you won't need to worry about upgrading again for years.  

The original iPad still has a few uses.  While most apps now require at least an iPad 2 or iPad mini, the original apps that came with the iPad will still work.  This can make it a fine web browser.

Ready to Upgrade? A Buyer's Guide to the iPad.