Updating your Android apps: Choosing automatic or manual, and how to get it done

Keep your apps up to date at the pace you want

Android Central University

As the number of apps on our (sometimes multiple) devices continues to grow, it becomes quite a chore to keep them up to date on a weekly basis. App developers are pushing out updates just to change app icons or small strings of text, and for this reason (among others) Google has set the Play Store to update apps automatically by default. Still, some of us would prefer or be better off not updating apps without our explicit permission and action.

So which path is right for you? Do you let the Play Store do its thing and simply find out an app was updated when you check your notifications, or do you hop into the Play Store and manually hit the box to let the bits flow for just that single version number jump? Let's dive into the details.

Google Play Settings

Let's start with the simple part — finding the app update settings. Head to the Play Store, go to the app settings and look for "Auto-update apps." You'll be given three choices: do not auto-update apps, auto-update apps at any time and auto-update apps only over Wifi.

As we noted above, the Play Store has "Auto-update apps only over Wifi" selected by default. We're going to agree with Google that for the majority of users this is the best choice, especially as devices often now have dozens of apps installed at the same time. Most folks would like to know that their apps are up to date, and not have to worry about the update process using up their (often limited) mobile data allowance at the same time. If you happen to have unlimited data and want those apps right now, toggle on over to the "Auto-update apps at any time" option.

Google Play Settings

For those who want to be in control, there's always the "Do not auto-update apps" setting. Once you switch to this, you'll have to manually go into the Play Store and update each app when there's an update available — you should be notified when an app update is available, but you'll often be finding that out on your own. While this may seem like the safest route for someone concerned about their devices, there are a couple middle ground options here that could save you from going all the way to the manual option.

When you have auto-update turned on, apps that require new permissions in the latest update will always require your confirmation before updating, regardless of the setting. That means if your favorite wallpaper app all of a sudden wants to access your call history and send text messages, you'll have the option to reject that update just as you would if you were installing the new app from scratch. Further, even if you select the auto-update option in settings, you can opt out individual apps from being automatically updated. Head to the app listing from the "My Apps" setting, hit the menu button and uncheck the "Auto-update" box in the menu.

While there may not be a huge number of options when diving down into the Play Store settings, there's a good chance that some combination of the above options will strike the right balance for you to keep apps up to date while still giving you the feeling that you're controlling your phone's destiny.

Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.

  • I always update mine manually. I don't want apps adding permissions without my knowledge.
  • I like the recent update to Play where it tells you what, if any, permissions have been added since the last update.
  • Apps won't update automatically if they have new permissions, regardless. Manual or otherwise. Posted via Android Central App
  • I don't think it will automatically update any app if there are new permissions added to it. All those require manual updates.
  • i also do manually cause some upgrades are more like downgrades. if it isn't broken, better not fix it.
  • I have a lot of apps and unlimited data, so bring it on updates! If something changes that I don't like, Titanium backup's got my back. :D Posted via Android Central App
  • Never did it before with my gnex it simply couldn't handle it. However with my new gs5 I do enjoy having it auto update on wifi without me having to do anything
  • Manually is the way to go, that way you can see what's new I.e. functionality / permissions, also see if there are any issues reading people's reviews.
    I also use a file explorer to backup apk's and also use helium in case I need to role back, which doesn't happen much. Posted via Android Central App
  • I might be wrong but I think if permissions change, as in they request more permissions, then you have to accept the update even if set to auto.
  • you are correct
  • I update manually because I like to read about the new features. If I don't see them, then I would definitely miss out on functionality in many of the apps.
  • Me too. There's nothing like opening an app to realize it's been automatically updated overnight and you have no idea what changed. Change log first, use app next.
  • Ditto, although you're usually notified about updates even when set to to auto so you could simply go look when that notification pops up... Play store will even keep a list of recently updated apps so they're easy to find. Nonetheless, I keep it on manual for most apps except core Google apps and that serve as the front end for some online service, reason being that I don't wanna screw up or interrupt service just because I've put off doing the updates.
  • I like to update my apps manually, that way I can choose to update them or not. This comes in handy when an update actually screws up the app for many devices. By doing it manually I get to see what has been updated and read the comments of others that have applied the update before choosing to update the app or not, or just deleting it if something is going on I don't like.
  • I hate auto updates. All my devices are immediately set to manual update. Gotta know the changes to each app! I like to go through each apps change log before updating them. Posted via Android Central App
  • Manul for me for sure. Sometimes an app will drastically change for the worse. If you're rooted and sporting Titanium backup and use it regularly it isn't as much of an issue. Yet another check in the "Why root?" column. Sometimes a change that breaks a game, like Final Fantasy Dimensions, won't get fixed for weeks or months.
  • Side topic - how much of a storage percentage would 100 apps grow in a year with all the updates. Say 100 apps @ 20mb, I don't know what the average is. If you have a new phone with limited storage eg the Moto E, it can add up. I have moved a lot of apps to SD of course on an N3 and S2.
    Some people have 500+ apps.
    Could it be an issue? Posted via Android Central App
  • Im suprised everyone hates auto-update, I love it. I had the option to have them auto-update on my nexus s, but it would slow my phone down so much it was extremely frustrating. Now that I have a moto x, I dont even think about it. I do wish there was a third option- Only auto update when plugged in during the night.
  • Auto update on wifi only is an option, isn't it?
  • No it is not Posted via Android Central App
  • Oh, I don't hate auto-update - I just like to see what changes an app update brings. :)
  • I have mine on auto update on WiFi only so when I get home it just starts right when I reconnect to it Posted via Android Central App
  • Manual for a couple of reasons. I use blacked out gapps which would be overwritten by the washed out pastel stock ones, and with certain apps I like to see the change log. Posted via Android Central App
  • Only over WiFi. I like not gavin to worry about updating but have a limited data plan. Posted via Android Central App
  • I always manual update so i control the process, however the bigger problem for me on both my N4 and N7 is whenever i update multiple apps the Play Store always force closes and i constantly have to reopen to continue to update. Very aggravating google! Posted via Android Central App on my white Nexus 4 with StraightTalk ATT
  • I like to know what changed before I update an app. For example, I don't want to be surprised by a new look or feature. Besides, knowing something changed would probably get me to open the app sooner. Posted via Android Central App
  • When apps like Facebook make majorly stupid decisions like eliminating "most recent" as a default on its news feed, I make sure they don't update on their own. The OCD in me wants to clear the list of apps to update, but I have four that I won't touch until they change or I have to perform a factory reset. Whenever I update, I always check the user feedback first — sometimes that saves me from updating to an app with broken functionality.
  • I manually update and If it's an app that I really love, I'll wait a day and read the comments. If the comments are questionable eh I leave it as is...
  • Auto update makes lots of wake locks, eats lots of battery. Posted via Android Central App
  • Manual, because Facebook updates swing wildly between slightly sucking and sucking really, really hard. Posted via Android Central App
  • I asked this question in the forums around back. On my first Androids (Archos 43 and Nexus 7) I always updated manually. I like knowing what has changed and being able not to accept an update if the reviews are bad on. That got to be a big chore keeping up with it though so my n7 is usually not update to date. When I got an N5 it had auto update on by default and I've left it. My pet peeves: You've updated an app but not opened it. Then you go to use it and it needs to do a bunch of stuff or download more data so you can't use it right away. My other pet peeve is I wish the play store had an option to skip this update only but notify you next time an update was available. Some updates I don't want because it changes features or has bugs. I turned off the auto-update on the camera app because I didn't want to loose the ability to take a photo while shooting video. Now that they brought that feature back, I updated.
  • If only the Play Store had something like F-Droid's "Ignore This Update" and "Ignore All Updates". If only it would show you the installed version number of the app it offers an update for, so you could judge the worthiness of an update for a large app. It certainly knows the installed version, otherwise it wouldn't know what was updated! And it would be nice to know the new version number reliably too. (See "Chrome Browser - Google" for an example of poor behavior.) Posted via Android Central App on my HP TouchPad (Schizoid PAC-ROM 4.2.2)
  • I generally hold off on updating until I can see new reviews of the update (Or check it out on online forums). It's not unusual for an update to add more bugs than features, so I prefer not to update until there's a little history. That doesn't work with all apps of course (some never get any coverage anywhere), but it's saved me from installing buggy messes on several occasions. "If only the Play Store had something like F-Droid's "Ignore This Update" and "Ignore All Updates"." Amen, brother!
  • I turn off Google Play auto updates & use Changelog Droid to automatically tell me when there are updates. It's neat to review the changelogs in one place before I head to the Play Store & hit Update All.
  • Is there any way to control this differently for each wifi connection. For ex I connect my tablet to my phones shared wifi theen tablet then thinks its broadband wifi and proceeds to dowload updates, sync dropbox etc. Can I set the wifi to say dont upadte when on this wifi?
  • I love android arc
  • I'd like a 4th option or have this split in two. I want manual update over WiFi only. Auto update over WiFi doesn't consider that the available Wi-Fi might be limited e.g. our car hotspot. I normally use Manual update however I got burnt last week by triggering the manual updates to run, then had to leave in a hurry and the downloads continued on my mobile data ( until it ran out). I wasnt happy
  • Be careful if you select "Do not auto-update apps". I've just been stung with a massive excess data bill. I tried to download Lollipop over my wifi at home but didn't have enough space on my phone, so didn't continue and thought I'd download another day. However Google Play Services decided to start downloading over my mobile network about 12 hours later. It continued to try (and fail because I didn't have enough space) until I spotted it, 13.5GB of mobile data later. $380 worth of excess data charges to me. I've spoken to Google a few times about this but they're saying it's not their problem. I should have selected "Update over WiFi only". So specifying that you want the control doesn't actually mean you'll get it. Makes no sense to me and I feel completely let down by Google customer service.
  • Hey Srikumar Bhaduri! What's your take? Leave a comment. -the updating of all apps suitable for this handset may carried on free of cost.
  • Is there a way to prevent individual apps from being updated?
  • How do you not understand that the most important step is telling us where to find the app settings? With that tiny bit of information, we can probably poke our way through it. Without that tiny bit of information, the rest of this article is useless.
  • UpRhn
  • UP RHn