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How to use external hard drives with your iPhone or iPad in iOS 13 and iPadOS 13

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.

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 the 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.

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.

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

  1. Tap all of the files you want to move.
  2. Tap Move.
  3. Tap on your external drive in the menu.

  1. 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.
  2. Tap Copy.

Questions?

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

Joseph Keller is the former Editor in Chief of iMore. An Apple user for almost 20 years, he spends his time learning the ins and outs of iOS and macOS, always finding ways of getting the most out of his iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and Mac.

33 Comments
  • What about requiring power? Seems some external storage will report not enough power and need t be plugged in as well, did you experience that?
  • If you're using an external drive that requires separate power, it will need to be plugged in. If you use an external drive that does not require power, it will not need to be plugged in.
  • I'm seeing the power message on iPad mini 4 with lightning, with regular thumb drive. Maybe it needs newer devices or usb-c only for non assisted power.
  • I’m 99% sure that the only iOS device that doesn’t need additional power when plugging in an external drive is the 2018 iPad Pro. If it’s not a 2018 iPad Pro you more than likely need to be sitting next to an outlet. I only needed to attach a powered lightning cable to the usb adapter when I wanted to use my flash drive. The real fun began when I wanted to use any of my portable hard drives, which required me to add a 5V powered USB hub between the USB adapter and the hard drive. It may have been because these are HDDs instead of SSDs, but I don’t have a SSD to confirm. **Confirmed with both my first gen 12.7” iPad Pro and iPhone X.
  • Would you mind telling me what 5V power USB hub are you using? I do have a 2018 12.9 but at the moment installed the public beta on my older gen 1 12.9. Have several mobile externals that I have used with my Macbook that I want to access. I know I will have to replace my thunderbolt 2 drive but hoping I can use the others (USB) and I do often use 2 HDDs at same time, thus thinking I may need a powered hub for that (need 2 USB ports, an SD and would like a PD USBc port also if possible).
  • Well turns out I don't actually need a USB hub to use my External HDD (Not SSD) with my iOS devices. I hooked up an Apple USB-C 29w power adapter to the USB3 Camera dongle and it works just fine. (I have a USB-C to Lightning cable btw)
  • Do you have a dongle to try multiple hdds? I actually want to connect a camera and an ssd so i can backup photos directly to ssd.
  • Sorry for the very late reply but I can confirm that multiple drives are recognized by iOS and ipadOS using a powered hub.
  • I have the 2017 12.9" iPad Pro. I tested at least 3 thumbdrives and I think only one worked without any additional power. I have a small external battery backup and I plugged it into my USB - Lightening adapter and that allows me to read all of my thumbdrives. It is unfortunate that I have to carry around the small battery back up, but I'm just glad that I can even do this now. I know it is because the lightening doesn't provide enough juice like the USB-C port does. Hope this helps
  • Yup, that’s it. Today i tried the simple Apple Lightning to USB (the one without additional lightning input) and all flashdisks, card reader and even GoPro6 are recognized but not connected due to lack of power. System says that accessory cannot be connected. iPadOS 13 PB2 and latest iOS 12. USB mouse was connected successfully on iPadOS, so adapter is working.
  • Now that we will have the ability to connect external drives directly to our iPads, is there an app equivalent to Disk Utility to let us reformat drives?
  • Not in the developer beta gen 1.
  • What file systems are supported?
  • Fat32 and HFS+ (macOS Extended) worked for me. ExFAT didn’t seem to want to be recognized. Didn’t check any of the others yet.
  • Surely APFS works, as that is the native format in iOS?
  • In theory yes, but I haven’t tested it myself as the only drive I have formatted in APFS is inside my MacBook Pro.
  • I saw that APFS was added in beta 2
  • Why are you writing a "How To" article for an OS that was only announced a week ago; won't be available even in public beta for another month or more; and is not releasing for nearly four months? The headline and the article gives the general public the impression it can be done now.
  • Because obviously, everyone already has the pre-alpha code.
  • Because people are asking for details. I think those who see the iPad Pro as an alternative to their Macs are especially interested-especially if they are contemplating purchases of hubs, cables, drives-or how their current accessories will work.
  • and public beta is available right now
  • Will we be able to play mp4 files from a flash drive in the files app?
  • Yep! Works for me.
  • hi! what about the speed transfer between ipad pro to external hard disk (exfat file system ) i notice its very very slow but not when the direction is harddisk to ipad pro. i am using the first public beta
  • This article got pushed again today to my RSS feed, yet nothing in it is updated since original posting on June 12 - even though there have been plenty of questions in the comments. For example, still nothing in the article about power requirements. A lot of imore posts recently seem only surface level , without enough detail.
  • More excuses for Apple
  • Nice review but just more excuses for Apple ——- connecting an iPad/iPhone to USB flash thumb drive for data file transfers should have been enable in iOS 8 years ago!!!
  • I agree, although I am glad it's here now, I just want to see the next iPhone have USB-C so we can start using USB-C everywhere and connect things to any device
  • I have iPad 6th Gen (2018) it will be works on this setup ???
  • any one try this setup on old iPad?? its works on old iPad??? like 6 gen (2018)
  • This sounds like great news! I currently have an IPad Pro (2nd gen) and use a Lightning to USB3 camera adapter to transfer photos from my camera (SD card inserted), which provides the power for the transfer. Apple specifically states that the adapter will not read or write to a USB flash drive. Are folks saying that iOS 13 will give my adapter (with any appropriate powered hubs)b the capability to now copy/move photos from the IPad directly to an Sd card, Flash drive and/or other external drive? It would be great if, once iOS 13 is out, y’all could post your solutions/set-ups for those of us who are more tech challenged. Thanks.
  • Hi. I'm interested in recording high quality video directly to external drives through the lightening port on SE or a WiFi drive. Currently, when you record with external flash it saves it in internal memory first until you press stop, then it copies it out to external memory. As some of these recording techniques can be 150 to 600mbit/s, so you can't film too long at high quality. So, if you are filming a concert or sporting event, you run out of phone memory quickly. Can the new system bypass the local storage to record directly to any external memory without pressing stop? I'm looking at buying a SE. Could anybody try? Thank you.
  • Is there any way to export music files from the Music app to a connected USB flash drive? My wife wants to give up her MacBook, but likes making 'mixtapes' for friends, either on CD's or flash drives. Is there any way to do this with iPadOS13 or iOS13?