Of all the questions I get as a computer expert, this is the one I get the most. Clearly, there's a demand for this kind of answer, so I'll make you and me a deal: I'll provide the answer and then, later on, when 50% of the people I know reach out to me and continue to ask this question, I'll just point them here!
Sounds like a deal. So let's get started...
Question: Do I even need to update my iOS software?
Answer: Yeh, you do. Just not right away.
When Apple, or Google for that matter, release software updates for iOS or Android devices, those updates contain critical security patches. Those patches help prevent all kinds of malicious code from messing with your most critical device. They also, often, contain new features that most of you will want to use. Siri, Apple's voice assistant came in a software update. So did critical updates to Apple Maps (which I hate anyway, yuck!). So yes, you do want to install those updates. Just don't think that waiting a few weeks will make or break anything: it most cases it won't.
Question: OK, so then when should I update my iOS software?
Answer: Give it about two weeks.
Wait. Be patient, young grasshopper... you'll be glad that you did. Now, take those two weeks to read the reviews from all of the people around the globe who decided to update their software the same day that the updates were made available. Those people — called "early adopters" — serve as a bellwether for the community. They post their results on online forums like the ones for iOS at Mac Rumors and iMore. Find and read those boards after a new iOS update has been released. See if people are having problems after their upgrade. If so, take a wait and see approach.
Question: What if there are no problems and I'm ready to update my iOS software?
Answer: Start with a backup.
Connect your iPhone or iPod (yeh, some of you still have those!) to your computer and open up iTunes. iTunes will allow you to fully backup your device onto your computer. Once connected, find the ICON of your device. In modern versions of iTunes, you'll find that right next to your Music drop-down menu. Click on the icon that represents your device as shown here:
When the next window opens, scroll down on the RIGHT side of your screen and find the BACKUPS section of iTunes. There, you'll find a button that says "Back Up Now" as shown here. Coincidentally, it's also where the "Restore Backup" button is. Something I'll refer to later.
When your backup is completed — and it may take a while on iPhones/iPods with larger capacities — then, and only then, can you update your software. Why? Because now you'll have a backup of your phone in case of an emergency. Now, if there's a terrible problem and you need to wipe and then restore your iPhone: you're covered. Just connect, open iTunes and click on that "Restore Backup" button.
Thank me later.