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How to use a USB drive with iPhone or iPad

Cult of Mac 2020-08-19 01:00:02

The world is full of USB drives, from portable thumbdrives to full external SSDs. Happily, you’re not closed off from these just because you use an iPhone or iPad. All you need is the right adapter.

And you’ll have full read/write access to everything on the drive. You won’t even need to install any software, as the app you need comes preinstalled on your device.



Some of you might be confused because iPhones and USB drives couldn’t really work together for far too many years. You could get around the limitation, but it took effort and money. That all changed with iOS 13/iPadOS 13.

iPhone and iPad users need a Lightning-to-USB adapter


The drives you want to connect with have a USB-A connector. Your iPhone or basic iPad has a Lightning port, so you’ll need an adapter. Fortunately, Apple makes just the one you need.

Plug the Lightning to USB 3 Camera Adapter ($39) into your device, then plug the USB drive into the USB-A port. It’s not rocket science.


Many drives take more power than your iPhone or iPad alone can provide, but Apple’s adapter also includes a Lighting port. Plug a charging cable into it, and it’ll provide all the power the drive needs. As a bonus, it’ll also charge your handset or tablet.

I’ve tested Apple’s Lightning/USB adapter with plenty of drives. I tested a bunch is thumbdrives from different companies and a range of capacities. And I tried the adapter with a Samsung T7 solid state drive. It worked perfectly with all of them.


iPad Pro users a need a USB-C-to-USB adapter

iPad Pro uses have it even easier. This computer has a USB-C port, and you can get a drive that uses that same format. That extends from thumbdrives all the way to external SSDs.

But that doesn’t help with all the legacy drives out there with larger USB-A ports. You’ll need an adapter. Fortunately, there are a plethora. The iPad Pro can use almost any USB-C accessory designed for laptops, and that includes multi-port hubs with USB-A ports.


Take a simple example, the Apple USB-C Digital AV Multiport Adapter. Plug this into your iPad and then plug the drive and you can read the contents of the drive.

But there are so many other options. One of my favorites is Sanho’s HyperDrive iPad Pro, but you might also like the Satechi Slim Aluminum Type-C Multi-Port Adapter V2, which can be used with your iPad Pro and your MacBook.

HyperDrive iPad Pro offers 3.5mm headset jack, a USB-A port, microSD and SD card readers, a USB-C port, and an HDMI port.
Photo: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

I’ve tested my iPad Pro plenty of these hubs with loads of USB drives. I’ve never had a problem.


The Apple Files app is all you need


Whether you have an iPhone, iPad or iPad Pro, the only software you’ll need to access the contents of USB drives is Apple’s Files application. Plug in the drive (with the appropriate adapter) and it’ll appear in the this app, which comes pre-installed on every iOS and iPadOS device.

If you’ve accessed a drive on your Mac then you should be familiar with this process. To see the contents of the drive, go to the Browse screen in the Files application. In a list of available drives, like your local iPhone or iPad, you’ll see the name of the USB drive you’re trying to access. Tap on it and you’ll open a window with all the files and folders.


From there, you can do whatever you want. Open files. Move them around. Put them on your iPhone or iPad. Copy files from your device to the drive. Whatever.

How accessing a USB drive with iPhone or iPad is useful

Even in the world with iCloud, there are still plenty of reasons to use USB drives. If you want to carry around a couple of terabytes of pictures, work files, movies, etc., and be sure you always have access to them, get an external dive and connect it to your iPad, iPhone or both.

With your files stored locally, you don’t have to worry about the vagaries of internet access. Even on a plane, you can always pop in the drive and access your files. Plus, a thumbdrive can hold proprietary files that you don’t want to risk sharing with anyone else.


And consider removable memory cards. Apple won’t build SD or microSD card slots into its devices, but card readers all use the USB format. If you have a drone, it probably has an SD card full of images. You can easily move these pictures over to your iPhone or iPad.