Upgrades vs update: what's the difference? The app store on your phone tells you that 10 apps need to be updated. You hear about a new upgrade for your computer. Apple announced that the iOS 6 upgrade will soon be available for your iPhone and iPad. What does that mean and why should you care? Let's end this confusion once and for all.
Firmware, operating systems, programs, software, and apps can be updated or upgraded. It helps to understand the difference between firmware and operating systems before you continue.
Upgrade vs Update
When a manufacturer needs to make small bug fixes, add the Vudu service to their media player box, or otherwise tweak an operating system, software or app, it is considered an update.
When major features, pre-installed apps, and menus change, it's usually an upgrade. When you install Mountain Lion on your Mac computer, it's an upgrade. When you change from Windows 7 to Windows 8, it's an upgrade.
Let's look at Apple TV as an example. Recently, Hulu Plus was added to its list of streaming apps. That was an update. Several months ago Apple TV changed its menus from text lists to a grid of app icons. That was an upgrade.
How to tell if it's an update or an upgrade—Versions
When you have to buy software for a whole new operating system, or for a new program or app, you know that you have purchased an upgrade. Looking at a program's, or operating system's, version number is another way to know if you have upgraded your operating system, or simply updated it. Along with wildcat names like Mac's Snow Leopard and Mountain Lion, or Android's infinite cute names of desserts and candies—Jelly Bean, Gingerbread, Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS)—each operating system has a version number.
The version number can usually be found in a menu under "about this computer," or under "system info." Many of the Mac programs will briefly show the software version when it opens. On a Mac it's under the Apple menu "About this Mac." On an iPhone open the settings app, then go to General>About>Version. On an Android it's in the Settings>About Phone and look for the Android Version.
On a PC, you can find out the windows version number by typing "winver" in the search bar. Windows has frequent security updates and other bug fixes. When there are enough updates needed to make major changes, Microsoft calls it a "service pack." This will be listed in your winver window.
A version number will often have two or three parts. The version for the Mountain Lion operating system is 10.8. This week there was an update that fixed bugs in the system. My current operating system version is now 10.8.1. The third number indicates the number of an update.
Examples of Android versions:
Honeycomb = 3.0
Ice Cream Sandwich= 4.0
Jelly Bean = 4.1
Examples of Mac OS X versions:
Leopard = 10.5
Snow Leopard = 10.6
Lion = 10.7
Mountain Lion = 10.8
Why should you care?
Compatibility is one reason you should care which version of an operating system your computer or device is running. Software, apps, and even hardware accessories have certain "system requirements." And those system requirements often list the version numbers.
Getting the most from your device. Without having to buy a new device, an upgrade brings cool new features. Some features enhance the hardware; iOS 5 for iPhone brought the ability to take photos using the volume button. Others are software based; iOS 5 brought us the Siri assistant. Some upgrades make your current computer or phone act like you just bought a new one. Be sure to upgrade so you don't miss out on getting the most from your device. By the way, iOS 6 will be arriving in September 2012. Be sure to say "yes" when you iPhone or iPad asks if you want to upgrade.
A couple more things to consider about updates and upgrades. When you update your software, it's usually harmless because it changes minor actions, or fixes certain bugs. Still, when you update (or upgrade) a device, be sure you don't interrupt the process by turning off your device, or trying to use another app. An interrupted update on a media player could require that you reinstall the original firmware.
An upgrade is often a major change and can affect any apps (and their data) that may be incompatible with the new version. Before you install an upgrade, be sure to back up all of your documents, media files, and/or app data that are currently on your computer or device. While I have never had a failed upgrade, it only takes one devastating loss of your important information to never forget to backup.
Learn how to upgrade your iPhone
Before you upgrade to Mountain Lion
Why you'll want to upgrade to Mountain Lion
What is Firmware and What is an Operating System?