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Curious how to update to iOS 5.0.1 — or any future iOS update — over-the-air (OTA) directly on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch? Yes, Apple finally pulled the big test switch in the cloud and you can go from beta 3 to beta 4 via a svelte, under 200mb, bit differential (delta) update-in-place rather than the usual beefy 700MB+ iTunes restore of updates past. We’ll show you how, after the break!

Initiating an OTA update for iOS is really easy. You might see a red notification badge on your Settings app to alert you to an update, or get a popup notification telling you it’s ready to install, but you can always check on your own, at any time.
  1. Launch the Settings app
  2. Tap General
  3. Tap Software Update
  4. If there’s nothing new, you’ll be told just so. Otherwise, you’ll be presented with all the details about the update.
  5. Tap Download and Install
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  7. Agree to the Terms and Conditions
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  9. IMPORTANT! If you’re low on juice, make sure you plug in! You don’t want your battery to die mid-update! Click here to enlarge
  10. Watch the progress bar! (This part depends on the speed and quality of your 3G or Wi-Fi signal. Don’t be alarmed if it takes a long time, speeds up or slows down, or appears to jump around — be patient.)
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  12. Once it’s finished downloading, you’ll be prompted to instal (and restart) your device. If you don’t explicitly hit Later or Install within a few seconds, it will install on your behalf.
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  14. Agree to the Terms and Conditions yet again.
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  16. Apple will verify the install.
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  18. That’s it!
Not only does iOS 5 update OTA, it updates in place using bit-differential (delta) files, so you should get a faster, much more efficient process. For example, there’s no need to restore from backup afterwards or re-download your stuff.

Seriously, once the download finishes it’s amazing quick and smooth. Apple may not have invented OTA updates (Chris swears BlackBerry has had them for ages, and Nokia likely invented them in 1812…) but if this is any indication, they’re doing them right.