Cannot install update for Apple Watch? Need to free up storage first?

Cannot Install Update error message on Apple Watch

Trying to update your Apple Watch to the latest watchOS version only to discover that your watch won’t update due to space? Getting an error message that your watch “Cannot Install Update” because it does not have sufficient available storage?

Unfortunately, it’s easy for your Apple Watch to run low on storage space–before you even realize it!

If your Apple Watch won’t update, here are some tips to help update your watch to its latest watchOS. available storage needed on Apple Watch in order to update to the latest watchOS version on iPhone Watch app

Before you troubleshoot, write down, take a screenshot of the error message on your iPhone’s or watch’s screen, or make a mental note of the available storage that your Apple Watch needs to update.

can't install Apple Watch software watchOS update

If you’re getting the error Unable to install Update: an error occurred installing the latest version of watchOS on your Apple Watch; please see this Apple Support document. 

Related reading

If your Apple Watch won’t update to the latest watchOS, try these quick tips first Apple Watch install update

  • For a major watchOS release, remember that you need to update your paired iPhone first and then update your watch.
  • Check if your watch stores any updates. On your watch, go to Settings > General > Usage. If it lists an update, delete it. Restart and try updating the watch again.
  • Close all open apps on your iPhone, restart the phone, then launch the Watch app and try to update the watch.
    • To close apps, swipe up from the bottom of the phone or double-press the home button to open the app switcher. Then, swipe all apps off the top of the screen to close them.
  • Turn both your watch and your paired iPhone off, wait 20-30 seconds, and power them back on, starting with the phone. Then, try updating the watch.
  • Force restart your watch by holding down both buttons (side button and Digital Crown) for at least 10 seconds, then release both buttons when you see the Apple logo on the watch’s screen.
  • Try updating directly on your watch (for watchOS 6 and above.) Place the watch on its charger and verify you connected it to a WiFi network (preferably 5 GHz, if available.) Then, open the Settings > General and tap Software Update.

If none of these quick tips help, we recommend you follow the tactics we outline in detail in the rest of this article.

  • Delete apps, music, podcasts, audiobooks, photos, and other things that use a lot of your watch’s storage.
    • If needed, you can now delete many of Apple’s native apps when using watchOS 6 and above.
  • Unpair your watch from your iPhone, then re-pair it via the Watch app. Then, set it up as new. Once set up and updated to the latest watchOS, unpair your Apple Watch again and restore it from your recent Apple Watch backup.

Older isn’t always better (when it comes to Apple Watch) storage on Apple Watch

With the latest watchOS update, the older model Apple Watches really seems to bear the brunt of this problem.

In particular, our older Apple Watch Series 3 and 4 (WiFi model) do not have enough storage to install updates.

The main reason the older Apple Watch series has issues updating is the total storage available on these devices is limited.

This is especially true for the Series 3 and 4 models.

The 3 WiFi-only model (called the GPS model) is limited to 8 GB, while the Series 3 Cellular LTE and Series 4 include 16GB.

Total storage capacity  on Apple Watch by series

  • Original, Series 1, Series 2, and Series 3 (WiFi model): 8 GB
  • Series 3 (Cellular LTE e-SIM): 16 GB
  • Apple Watch Series 4: 16 GB
  • Series 5, 6, 7, 8, and Ultra: 32 GB

And, of course, even when your Apple Watch has 8, 16, or 32 GB–that does not correspond to available storage.

You must have a significant amount of available storage to update your watch. So, let’s check your watch’s available storage.

Check how much storage you currently use on your Apple Watch

The good news is that you can check how much storage you have available–and calculate how much storage you need to free up.

Check on your Watch

  1. Open the Settings app and tap General.Settings and General on Apple Watch
  2. Choose About.About settings on Apple Watch
  3. Scroll down to Available–that’s how much storage you have to update your watch.
    1. Compare this number to the error message–take note of the difference between the numbers. That’s how much space you need to free up before updating your watch.available storage and total capacity storage on Apple Watch
  4. Also, check Capacity–that’s how much total storage your watch has onboard and is available for you to work with. 
    1. Depending on your watchOS version, capacity may show the total amount of storage your watch model offers or how much storage you can access. Confused? Learn more in this article.
  5. Finally, look at the numbers underneath Songs and Photos–these tend to be the main storage hogs.Apple Watch storage for songs, apps, and photos
    1. Look at the number underneath Applications, which shows how many third-party apps are currently on your Apple Watch. (This number does not include any Apple apps.)

Check on your iPhone

  1. Open the Watch app on your iPhone.
  2. Choose the My Watch tab.My Watch tab on iPhone's Apple Watch app
  3. Tap General.
  4. Select About.iPhone Watch app About setting
  5. Locate Available–that’s how much storage you have to update your watch.
    1. If it shows a dashed line, ensure your watch is on and place it next to your iPhone to update this information.
    2. Compare the listed available number to the one in the error message–take note of the difference between those numbers. That’s how much space you need to free up before updating your watch.
  6. Check Capacity, too–that’s how much usable space your watch has. This number is always lower than the actual storage for your model.
  7. Finally, take a look at the numbers next to Songs and Photos–these tend to be the main storage hogs.
    1. Look at the number next to Applications, which shows how many third-party apps are currently on your Apple Watch.

How to use this information to free up storage space on your Apple Watch?

Depending on how much storage you need to clear out for that update, consider deleting your space hogs first–things like photos, music, audiobooks & podcasts, and third-party apps.

Follow these steps to make more storage available on your Apple Watch 

  1. Identify which apps use the most storage on your watch.
  2. Remove the app’s media first (for apps like music, photos, audiobooks, or podcasts)–then try to update your watchOS.
  3. Delete apps if you still need available storage to install the watchOS update. Start with third-party apps, and then, if required, delete native Apple apps. Then, try to update your watch again.
    1. If you deleted both content and apps and still need more storage for the update, unpair your watch, then set it up as new to update your Apple Watch to the latest watchOS.
      1. To reconnect to your watch’s backup after you update the watch to the latest watchOS, unpair it again, and choose to restore from a backup when asked whether to set it up as new or restore from a backup.

Identify what’s taking up so much storage on your Apple Watch

On your iPhone

  1. Open the Watch app.
  2. Select the My Watch tab.
  3. Tap on General.
  4. Scroll down and choose Usage.Storage usage on Apple Watch app on iPhone by app
  5. Review the apps at the top of the list–these take the most space on your watch–it’s typically things like media apps–music, photos, podcasts or audiobooks, and so forth.

On your Apple Watch

  1. Tap the Settings app.
  2. Choose General.
  3. Scroll down and tap Storage. Storage use on Apple Watch
  4. Scroll down to review the apps at the top of the list–these take the most space on your watch–usually, it’s media like music and photos. Apps that take a lot of storage on Apple Watch

Remove media from your Apple Watch

While your Apple Watch stores your music, photos, and other media locally, these “live” on your iPhone and your Apple iCloud account so you can remove them from your Apple Watch without deleting them from your paired iPhone and account.

Using the information about how you use storage on your watch, start deleting your biggest storage hogs. For most people, that’s music, photos, podcasts, or audiobooks.

Delete downloaded music from your Apple Watch using your iPhone

  1. Connect your Apple Watch to its charger and place the watch near your iPhone.
    1. Apple ONLY removes music from your Apple Watch when connected to power and near your iPhone.
  2. Open the Apple Watch app, then tap the My Watch tab.
  3. Scroll and tap Music.
  4. Toggle off Recent Music and any other Playlists so no new music downloads to your device.Toggle off recent music for Apple Watch
  5. Tap the Edit button.
    1. If you don’t see Edit, you don’t have any music locally downloaded onto your watch.
  6. Scroll to Playlists & Albums and tap the delete button (red minus symbol) to remove music from your Apple Watch’s storage.
  7. Tap Delete and confirm you want to remove it.Delete music from the Watch app on iPhone
  8. Repeat for additional music.
  9. Tap the Done button when you finish removing music from your watch.
  10. Once you remove your music, try to update your watch again.

Delete downloaded music from your Apple Watch using your Apple Watch

Given its larger screen, it’s a lot easier to remove music using your iPhone. However, you can delete music using just your watch.

  1. Open the Music app on your Apple Watch.Music app on Apple Watch
  2. Tap Library.
  3. Scroll and choose Downloaded.Find music downloaded to your Apple Watch
  4. Choose Albums or Songs.
  5. Swipe on a song or album.
  6. Tap the More Button (three dots.) More button in Apple Watch music app
  7. Choose Remove.
  8. Select Remove Download.delete downloaded music on Apple Watch
  9. Once you remove your music, try to update your watch again.

Remember that any music you remove from your Apple Watch remains on your iPhone.

How to remove photos from your Apple Watch

Unlike music, you cannot delete photos directly from your Apple Watch. You can only change your watch’s photo settings using your paired iPhone and the Watch app.

By default, your Apple Watch syncs with your Photos app’s favorite album, but you can also change which album it syncs with.

So, to remove photos from your watch, you need to resync your photos!

  1. Connect your Apple Watch to its charger and place it near your iPhone.
  2. On your paired iPhone, open the Watch app.
  3. Choose the My Watch tab.My Watch tab on iPhone's Apple Watch app
  4. Scroll down and select Photos.
  5. Under Photo Syncing, tap Selected Photo Album.Turn off photo syncing between Apple Watch and iPhone to save on Apple Watch storage
  6. Change this to None.
    1. Once you update your watch, change this setting back.
  7. Wait for your Apple Watch to update these settings and remove your photos.
  8. Once you remove your photos, try to update your watch again.

How to remove Podcasts and Audiobooks from your Apple Watch

If you download and store podcasts or audiobooks on your watch, you remove those using the Watch app on your iPhone.

  1. Connect your Apple Watch to its charger and place the watch near your iPhone.
  2. Open the Watch app and choose the My Watch tab.
  3. Tap Podcasts or Audiobooks.
  4. For Audiobooks.
    1. Toggle off both Reading Now and Want to Read.Apple Watch audiobooks stop syncing
    2. Below these two toggles, if you see any audiobooks listed under From Library, swipe and tap Delete to remove them from your watch’s storage.Remove an audiobook from Apple Watch storage
      1. You can also tap the Edit button, choose the red minus icon, and then tap Delete to remove audiobooks from your Apple Watch’s storage.
  5. For Podcasts.
    1. Under Add Episodes From, choose Custom.
    2. Toggle off Most Recent and toggle off anything under Choose Shows.Delete podcasts from Apple Watch storage
  6. Once you remove audiobooks and/or podcasts, try to update your watch again

Remember, removing an audiobook or podcast from your Apple Watch does not delete it from your iPhone or your account. 

After updating your watch, you can regain access to anything you temporarily removed.

Remove third-party apps from your Apple Watch

Apps don’t usually account for much of your storage, but if you’ve deleted all the app media and still don’t have sufficient space for the watchOS update, then you need to start deleting apps.

Start by deleting third-party apps from your watch

  1. On your paired iPhone, open the Watch app and choose the My Watch tab.
  2. Scroll down until you reach the section Installed on Apple Watch.
  3. Tap a listed app.
  4. Toggle off Show App on Apple Watch to remove that app from your watch.Delete third party apps from Apple Watch
  5. Press the back button and repeat to remove more third-party apps from your watch.
  6. Once you remove your third-party apps, try to update your watch again.

When you remove a third-party app from your Apple Watch, you do not delete it from your iPhone. Any removed apps appear as Available Apps to reinstall later once you update.

Remove Apple’s built-in native apps from Apple Watch

If you use watchOS 6 or above, you can delete some of Apple’s native apps directly from your Apple Watch.

As of this writing, you can delete these Apple’s first-party apps from your Apple Watch: Alarm, Timer, Stopwatch, Remote, Camera Remote, Radio, ECG, Breathe, Noise, and Cycle Tracking.

While you can delete these apps, we don’t recommend doing it unless you’ve exhausted all other storage savings options.

That’s because once you remove these apps, you need to reinstall them via your Apple Watch’s app store–and that is often not as easy as it sounds!

How to delete Apple apps from your Apple Watch

  1. On your Apple Watch, go to the Home Screen.
  2. Press and hold one of the listed app’s icon until you see an x on the icon.remove an app from the Apple Watch without the iPhone
  3. Tap that x to remove the app from your Apple Watch and confirm.
    1. The app is not deleted from your paired iPhone.
  4. If you use a ListView for apps instead of a home screen.
    1. Swipe left on an app’s name and then tap the trashcan to remove it. Confirm you want to delete that app.Remove apps from apple watch with a list view app home screen

Are you not seeing the “x” to remove an app or no trashcan icon?

If you do not see “x” or the trashcan, that’s a built-in app that Apple does not allow users to remove from their Apple Watches.

How to reinstall deleted built-in Apple apps for your Apple Watch

  1. Open the App Store app on your Apple Watch.Apple Watch app store and search for app feature
  2. Tap Search.
  3. Choose Dictation or the Scribble Pad.find an app using the Apple Watch App Store app
  4. Speak or scrawl the name of the app you want, adding “Apple” or “Apples” to the beginning.
    1. For example, say or scribble “Apple’s Timer” or “Apple Alarms.”
  5. Once you see the name typed out on your watch’s screen, press Done.
  6. Scroll through the list of displayed apps and tap the download cloud to reinstall the app.Install an app from apple watch app store
    1. If you don’t see the download cloud, it’s likely not Apple’s official version, so continue to scroll for the official version.
  7. Repeat for any other apps you removed and want to restore to your watch.

Still can’t update your Apple Watch after deleting media and apps? Unpair it, then update

Unfortunately, this is a long and tedious process, especially if you want to preserve all your current watch settings (which requires restoring to a backup.) Be prepared to spend several hours on this task!

If you haven’t tried any of the above steps in removing content or apps, we suggest you do that before unpairing and re-pairing your iPhone.

Unpair, your Apple Watch, update it, then unpair it again and restore your backup

Unpairing often frees up space on your watch by removing its cache, any temporary or corrupted files, and re-indexing your watch’s file system.

When you unpair your Apple Watch, you also automatically back up and sync your watch to your iPhone.

  1. Put your Apple Watch on its charger and place your Apple Watch and iPhone near each other.
  2. Open the Watch app on your iPhone.
  3. Choose the My Watch tab and tap All Watches.All Watches button in Watch app for iPhone
  4. Select your Apple Watch.
  5. Tap the “i” info button watch info i button
  6. Choose Unpair Apple Watch.unpair apple watch from iPhone
    1. For GPS + Cellular models, keep your cellular plan.
  7. Tap to confirm.
  8. If asked, enter your Apple ID password to disable Activation Lock.
  9. Your iPhone creates a backup of your Apple Watch and then unpairs it from the iPhone.
  10. Once complete, pair your watch again to your iPhone by centering its watch face in the viewfinder on your iPhone.Pair Apple Watch Animation-min
  11. Choose the option to Set Up a New Apple Watch.Apple Watch set up as new or restore from backup
  12. Follow the on-screen instructions to finish the setup.
  13. If asked, update your Apple Watch to the latest version of watchOS. Apple automatically updates your watch to the latest watchOS version available for your model.
    1. If you want to update to a beta version of watchOS, make sure you install the beta profile for watchOS and then update your watch manually.
  14. Once complete, if you want to restore your watch to its backup, unpair your watch again from your iPhone, and when you re-pair it, choose to restore it from an earlier backup.
    1. Since you just unpaired the watch, ignore the first listed backup.

FAQsFAQ frequently asked questions

How many apps do I need to delete to free up space?

Unfortunately, there is no “golden rule” here. It all depends on how much available space the watch update requires (as listed in the error message) and how much space you need to open up for that update.

As the article mentions, we recommend deleting media content first since these are usually the bulk of your Watch’s storage. That includes things like photos, downloaded music, podcasts, and audiobooks.

Does my iPhone or Apple Watch recommend any apps I haven’t used recently to delete?

While your Apple Watch does not provide a recommended list of apps you recently used or haven’t used in a while, your iPhone does!

To see this list on your paired iPhone, go to Settings > General > iPhone Storage. Wait for the information to populate, and then scroll down the list of Apps to see information about your use of apps.

offload unused apps on iPhone

You may also see a recommendation to Offload Unused Apps–enabling this removes the app from your iPhone and, if available, from your Apple Watch but keeps your data so you can reinstall it later and preserve all your information.

Why does updating my Apple Watch take so long?

The Apple watchOS download is slow because the phone downloads it first and then transfers it to the watch via Bluetooth.

To download faster, place your watch on its charger and turn off both WiFi and Bluetooth on your paired iPhone.

Then, on your Apple Watch, open the Settings app, tap General > Software Update, and download the update directly on the watch. 

Once the update is complete, don’t forget to turn both your iPhone’s WiFi and Bluetooth back on!

See this article for a step-by-step on speeding up those watch updates.

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A. Beth Whittenberger
I started my love affair with computers way back in elementary school with the Apple II. Since then, I've worked with technology in my career as a media educator and videomaker. I have an MFA in media making from Temple University, where I also taught undergrads as an adjunct faculty member. Additionally, I was a writer, content producer, and editor on the popular tech blog AppleToolBox. So I know a thing or two about teaching others and creating how-to guides! After a cancer diagnosis, I turned to mobile technology like my Apple Watch to help me monitor my health throughout my chemotherapy treatment and later, to regain my wellness once in remission. I love sharing how to understand and use mobile tech, like smartwatches and phones, as a tool for empowerment to live our best and healthiest lives! Connect with me on LinkedIn!


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