How to use external hard drives with your iPhone or iPad

iOS 13 and iPadOS, launching later this year, will bring support for external hard drives and flash drives to iPhones and iPads (though Apple only talked about this feature in relation to iPads, the company has confirmed that it will work with iPhones, as well). With a drive attached, you'll be able to move files around freely between the drive and your iPhone or iPad.

Additionally, Apple will allow third-party apps to import files directly from the external drive, so you don't have to go through the Files app or, for instance, Photos. This will speed up workflows, letting you, for example, import your photos directly into Lightroom CC instead of the Photos app. Of course, this feature will be dependent on third-party support, but it's likely that there will be plenty of apps to implement it.

Using an external hard drive or SSD with your iPhone or iPad is fairly simple, and in many cases, even easier than doing so on a Mac. Here's how you do it.

Apple occasionally offers updates to iOS, watchOS, tvOS, and macOS as closed developer previews or public betas for iPhone, iPad, Apple TV and Mac (sadly, no public beta for the Apple Watch). While the betas contain new features, they also contain pre-release bugs that can prevent the normal use of your iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, Apple TV, or Mac, and are not intended for everyday use on a primary device. That's why we strongly recommend staying away from developer previews unless you need them for software development, and using the public betas with caution. If you depend on your devices, wait for the final release.

How to connect an external drive to your iPhone or iPad

This is pretty straightforward, though if your device uses Lightning instead of USB-C, you may need Apple's Lightning-to-USB or Lightning-to-USB 3 camera adapters, depending on your drive.

  1. Connect your external drive to your iPhone or iPad, either directly to its Lightning or USB-C port (for 2018 iPad Pros), or through use of an adapter.
  2. Open Files on your iPhone or iPad.
  3. Tap Browse if your on an iPhone.
  4. Tap the name of your drive in the list of locations.

    Open Files, tap Browse, tap drive name

How to move files from your external drive to your iPhone or iPad

  1. In the Files app, tap the name of your external drive from the browse menu (iPhone) or sidebar (iPad)
  2. Tap Select.
  3. Tap all of the files you want to move.

    Tap external drive, tap Select, tap files

  4. Tap Move.
  5. Tap on the location where you want to move the image, such as iCloud Drive, Dropbox, or On My iPhone/iPad.

    Tap Move, tap location

  6. Tap on the folder where you want to store the item if you don't want to store it on the top level of your file service.
  7. Tap Copy.

    Tap folder, tap Copy

How to move files to your external drive from your iPhone or iPad

You can also move files to your external drive from your iPhone or iPad in much the same way.

  1. In the Files app, tap the name of your storage service from the Browse menu or sidebar.
  2. Tap on the folder from which you want to move a file if you need to.
  3. Tap Select.

    Tap storage service, tap folder, tap Select

  4. Tap all of the files you want to move.
  5. Tap Move.
  6. Tap on your external drive in the menu.

    Tap files, tap Move, tap external drive

  7. Tap on the folder where you want to store the item if you don't want to store it on the top level of your drive.
  8. Tap Copy.

    Tap folder, tap Copy

Great accessories for your iPhone or iPad

Samsung T5 SSD (From $90 at Amazon)

This compact, speedy drive is the perfect portable storage companion for your iPhone or iPad through its included USB-A-to-USB-C or USB-C-to-USB-C cables.

Apple Lightning-to-USB 3 Camera Adapter ($31 at Amazon)

Don't let the name fool you, this adapter is for more than just cameras, letting you attach various USB accessories to your Lightning-equipped iPhone or iPad.

Questions?

If you've got any questions about using an external drive with your iPhone or iPad, let us know in the comments.

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