How to Connect External Storage Drive to iPad & iPhone

May 4, 2020 - 19 Comments

How to connect external storage devices to iPhone or iPad

You can easily connect external storage drives to iPad and iPhone, providing easy access to all the files and data on those drives via the Files app. This includes connecting flash drives, USB hard drives, SD cards, and just about any other storage medium to iPhone, iPad Pro, and iPad you can think of, as long as you have the appropriate adapter to connect it to the iPhone or iPad.

This article is going to demonstrate how to use and connect external storage drives to iPhone or iPad, including external hard disks, USB flash drives, SD cards, and other common storage formats. You’ll then have direct access to the files on those storage mediums, right from iOS or iPadOS.

How to Connect External Storage Drive to iPad & iPhone

These are the steps to connect to and access external storage devices on iPhone or iPad. The demo screenshots here are shown on iPad but it works the same on iPhone too:

  1. Open the ‘Files’ app on the iPhone or iPad
  2. Open the Files app

  3. Connect the USB drive to the iPhone or iPad, either directly or by using an appropriate adapter for the device model *
  4. Tap on “Browse” if you’re not at the primary Files app screen already
  5. Tap on Browse to find the external storage device on iPad or iPhone

  6. Now from Browse, look under “Locations” to find the name of the external storage drive you connected
  7. Look under Browse to find connected external storage device on iPhone or iPad in Files app

  8. Tap on the name of the external storage drive to access the contents and use that data from iPhone or iPad
  9. Accessing the external storage drive data on iPhone or iPad via Files app

You can use all the regular Files app tips and functions with the external storage device.

You’re free to create new folders, cut, copy, paste, drag, drop, rename files and folders, and move files and data around as needed, sort files as make them easier to browse through, or whatever else you wish to accomplish. As long as the external drive is not locked (as can sometimes be the case with some SD cards and other external storage devices) then the external storage medium will be writeable and readable.

Files app appears to support a variety of common file systems, including APFS, ExFAT, FAT32, HSF+, so as long as the external storage device you’re trying to use is one of those formats, it should be easily readable.

What Adapters do I need for Connecting iPad or iPhone to External Storage Drives?

* Depending on your iPad or iPhone model, and depending on the device you want to connect, you may need a different adapter. The most common adapters for connecting external storage to iPhone and iPad are the following, these are partner affiliate links pointing to the products on Amazon:

What you use will ultimately depend on what device you are trying to connect to the iPhone, iPad, iPad mini, iPad Air, or iPad Pro. If your device has a Lightning port, then it will need a Lightning adapter. If the device has a USB-C port, it will need a USB-C based adapter.

We’re assuming you have a modern iPadOS version running on the iPad, as anything prior to iPadOS 13 will not have the features available in Files app to be able to natively access external drives this way. Likewise an y iPhone that wishes to use external storage devices must be using iOS 13 or later, as earlier versions of Files app there doesn’t support the capability either.

Files app is not limited to external storage access however, and you can also connect to external SMB servers with Files app on iPad and iPhone running the latest OS versions too.

Do you use external storage devices, hard drives, flash drives, SD cards, and other storage mediums with iPhone or iPad through Files app? What do you think of this great feature that is now available to iPad and iPhone? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

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Posted by: Paul Horowitz in iPad, iPhone, Tips & Tricks

19 Comments

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  1. Chris L says:

    Easy! Select the photos you want to offload in Photos, then tap Share > Save to Files, choose your USB drive and done.

  2. Mad says:

    There’s ONE EXCEPTION to all of this…

    iOS cannot connect to encrypted drives.

    I use APFS Encryption on 85% of my external drives. This means that iOS does not allow access to my most important files, rendering the feature useless.

    On macOS, attaching an encrypted drive triggers an immediate password request while iOS… just… does… nothing. I’ve searched high and low without finding an official file system support list. This is actually the most comprehensive guide I’ve found.

    Hopefully iOS 14 will support encrypted drive access… especially with Apple’s own APFS file system. Maybe with keychain sync for encryption passwords.

  3. Aziz says:

    Hi,
    When I connect a flash drive to iPhone or iPad , the contents can only be seen in the drive installed application , and not in iOS Files application.
    Any reason ?

  4. Jams O'Donnell says:

    Any time I’ve tried this with a USB drive I get a message saying that the device uses too much power and can’t be supported.

    • Lucifer says:

      That‘s apple‘s crappy USB-adapter. They reduced the power it outputs with iOS 13, god knows why. There are cheaper lightning adapters on amazon (look for those combined usb-adapters and cardreaders) that can handle a common thumbdrive.

  5. Sonny says:

    I have the official lightning to SD adapter. I use it to transfer photos from my mirrorless camera and also as a way to back up iPad files which I later store on external hard drives connected to my computer. I hear some hard drives may need additional power but the SD card adapter works well enough.

  6. rm says:

    I still wish the phones/ipads had a micro SD slot built in. I mean that would make things so much easier.

  7. Jams O'Donnell says:

    Any time I’ve tried this I get a message saying that the device uses too much power and can’t be supported.

    • Paul says:

      If you use a powered USB hub that should resolve the power error. Also the official Apple adapters seem to be better for power for some devices… as some third party adapters do not seem to pass power at all.

      • Fred Martin says:

        I have the official Apple lightning to USB adapter and I have two different SD card readers that I have tried reading SD cards with on my iPhone 11 Pro Max, one is made by Sandisk and the other by Adata. Either one plugged into the iPhone with a 16 gig SD card won’t work. iPhone just says this device requires too much power. I also tried it with my WD Element 1TB drive and of course it says the same.

    • Lucifer says:

      It‘s apple‘s crappy adapter. Get a cheap chinese one from amazon and it will work

  8. Mark says:

    I have found that even a small flash storage wouldn’t appear without using plugging in the adapter to power, which makes it a bit clumsy.

    • Lucifer says:

      it‘s apple‘s original adapter. had the same problem – it‘s now working fine with some cheaper and more capable adapters on amazon.

  9. Peter Smyth says:

    What about wireless external drives?

  10. expobill says:

    THANK YOU!
    this is the first publication to promote, instruct and offer a solution to a very use tip and file sharing technique that i read since 2019 when this was introduced.

  11. Pam says:

    if only we could take photos off the ipad to save ipad storage!

  12. Anuar bin Kassim says:

    I have the iPad Pro 12.9 Inch 2020 and have a SanDisk 1 Tera Byte solid-state drive with an USB C connection. My iPad can detect the drive but it takes some time to detect and not instantaneous. When I use the charging cable with the drive, it does not detect at all. Thanks.

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