In May of 2013, Apple CEO Tim Cook was called to testify before Congress about Apple's tax strategies, including the use of offshore subsidiaries to avoid bringing profits on non-U.S. sales back into the U.S. where they would be subject to high taxes. That led to an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission, which ultimately found Apple's disclosures to be sufficient. But I'm not Kelly "Taxgirl" Phillips Erb so I'm not about to comment on tax law. Instead, I mention the congressional testimony because after Sen. John McCain asked Tim Cook a number of questions about taxes, he had one last question for the Apple CEO:
McCain: I'm out of time, but why the hell do I have to keep updating the apps on my iPhone? Why can't you fix that?
Cook: We're looking to do better all the time.
Sure enough, when iOS 7 came out last month, one of the included features was the ability to update apps automatically. Just goes to show you that some things can get accomplished in Congress.
It looks to me as if the feature is turned on by default, but I've seen mixed reports of this on the Internet with some people saying that they have to turn it on manually. You can check for yourself by going to your Settings app and then tapping on iTunes & App Store. Swipe to the bottom of the screen and you will see the following options. Make sure that Automatic Downloads is turned on for "Updates" — which means app updates.
Note that between "Music" and "Books" there is also an option for automatic download of Apps. That does something different. If you download an app on your iPhone and your iPad has that switch turned on, then your iPad will also download the app. That is a handy feature if you want all of your apps to automatically appear on all of your devices, but that's not what I'm talking about today.
With automatic app updates turned on, you no longer need to worry about using an app that is out-of-date. When a developer releases an update to an app, you will get the update without having to do anything. By default, updates only take place when you are connected to Wi-Fi, but if you don't mind eating up the data portion of your cellphone plan, you can turn on "Use Cellular Data" at the bottom of that screen and app updates will occur even when your device is not connected to Wi-Fi. As you can see from the above screen, I leave that option turned on, but that is mainly because I want to be able to use iTunes Radio when I am in my car and not in a Wi-Fi zone, which is controlled by the same switch. Nevertheless, the switch also gives me app updates even when I'm not in a Wi-Fi zone. I haven't yet encountered a situation in which having "Use Cellular Data" turned on has eaten up a lot of my data, but I am usually connected to Wi-Fi, and I rarely get anywhere close to my 4 GB per month AT&T data cap, so I have data to spare. If you have a smaller plan and/or you find that you are regularly using up your monthly data allotment, consider turning off the "Use Cellular Data" option.
Automatic app updates are great when one of your apps is updated to fix a bug. When an app is updated to add more features, that can also be great, but at the same time it can be confusing if you don't know that the new features were added. For that reason, I encourage you to open the App Store app from time to time and tap the "Updates" button at the bottom right. When you do so, you will see any new apps that have not yet been updated on your device, followed by a list of each of your recent updates organized by date. For each update, you can tap the words "What's New" to see a description of the update, including any new features that you might want to try out. If there is an app that you use often, you'll want to tap What's New to find out what is new.
I have heard some people say that they prefer to keep the automatic app update option turned off because they fear that it drains battery life. I suppose that could be true in some situations, but note that iOS 7 tries to be smart about when it allows activity like this take place, often waiting until your iPhone or iPad is being charged and is not otherwise being used. As the Apple website says: "Intelligently scheduled updates: iOS schedules updates during power-efficient times. Like when your device is on and connected to Wi-Fi. So your battery isn’t drained unnecessarily." My app updates often take place overnight when I'm sleeping and my iPhone is charging.
The other argument that I have heard against automatic app updates it that there might be times when you don't want the latest version of the app, such as if there is a bug in the new version. Of course that is possible, but in my experience it is far more likely that the update fixes a bug in a prior version of the app. I view this as a situation in which the risks of doing nothing far outweigh the risks of taking action. Almost all of the time, you are better off with an app update. Unless you plan to take the time to extensively research the pros and cons of every app update before you allow it, I think you are far better off with automatic app updates turned on.
Whether you use this option or not, my hope is that you keep in mind that the option is there. If you turn off automatic updates, don't forget to manually update your apps from time to time just like you did in iOS 6. If you turn on automatic updates, don't forget to check every once in a while to learn about new features.