One of the changes coming with iPadOS and iOS 13 is the ability to connect an external hard drive to your iPhone or iPad. This offers a particularly big productivity boost for iPad Pro users hoping to fully replace a computer with their sleek tablet.
Of course, you may need an adapter to connect an external drive to your device (that’s just the world we live in these days), but once you do you can read or write data using the Files app.
It’s surprisingly easy to access data on your external storage with the new software and it offers a wealth of possibilities: create backups, transfer data, or view content directly from the drive. There’s no need to copy files to your device!
Learn everything there is to know about using external hard drives with iPadOS and iOS 13 below.
Quick TipsFollow these quick tips if your external hard drive is not working with your iPad or iPhone on iPadOS or iOS 13+:
- Make sure both your device and your external drive are connected to a power source other than the iPad/iPhone/iPod–this is the single most important factor to get this working! If using a hub, make sure that has its own power source too!
- Ensure your external hard drive is in the correct format (exFAT, HFS, FAT32, or APFS)
- Users report the most success using APFS or HFS
- Use an adapter that lets you plug your iPhone or iPad into power at the same time–like the Apple lightning camera adapter
- Inspect your external hard drive, cables, and ports for signs of physical damage
- Update the software on your iPhone or iPad to the latest version available
- Shut down your iPhone, iPad, or iPod then connect the external drive and restart it
- Try connecting your drive to a self-powered hub and then connect that hub to the Lightning to USB adapter
- Everything in the new Files app for iPadOS
- 13 small but incredibly useful changes and features in iOS 13
- How to easily encrypt USB drives on macOS
- iOS Files app on your iPad, the best tips and tricks
- How to download photos from iCloud to an external drive (USB drive)
Connecting an external hard drive to your iPhone or iPad
Connecting an external hard drive to your iPadOS or iOS 13 devices is as simple as plugging it into the port on the bottom. Of course, that’s only simple if your external storage matches the connector type.
The latest generation of iPad Pro features a USB-C charging port, allowing you to connect any USB-C accessory with ease. But those of us without the new iPad Pro or without USB-C hard drives need to use adapters to connect our storage.
If you want to connect an SD card to your iPhone or iPad, you need a USB-C to SD Card Reader or a Lightning to SD Card Camera Reader, depending on the connector for your device.
However, most people probably want to connect an external drive using a USB connector. For this, you need a Lightning to USB Adapter. We recommend the USB 3 adapter that lets you supply power at the same time.
Once you connect your external drive, you can access its contents through the Files app. We’ve explained how to do that a little further down.
If your external drive is not working in iPadOS or iOS 13, click here to jump to our troubleshooting tips below.
Seeing “cannot use accessory: requires too much power?”
Quite a few readers discovered that their drives were not working with any third-party camera adapters, mainly because those third-party products were not providing power to their drives.
Switching to the Apple-branded camera adapter solved the problem as it provides power to a connected device!
What adapters or hubs do I need?
The specific adapter you need to connect an external hard drive to your iPhone or iPad depends on your specific drive and your specific device.
Look at the connector on the bottom of your iPhone or iPad, it should either be a Lightning port or a USB-C port. Older Apple devices used a 30-pin connector, but those are mostly gone these days.
Now, look at the connector for your external drive. Is it an SD Card? A USB cable? A USB-C or Thunderbolt connector?
Whatever it is, you usually need an adapter to connect it to your iPhone or iPad. We recommend choosing an adapter that also lets you supply power if possible. That way your device won’t run out of battery and your external drive is more likely to work.
You only need a USB hub if you’re planning to connect multiple accessories to your device at once. This is entirely possible — some users have connected three or more external drives at the same time — but we recommend you find a powered hub to do so.
Which external drives are compatible?
Apple hasn’t released any compatibility information regarding external hard drives for iPadOS and iOS 13. Regardless of the brand or style of your drive, there’s a good chance it works with your iPhone and iPad.
Theoretically, you can connect anything from an SD Card to a thumb drive, to an SSD to your Apple device without any problems. But you need to ensure your hard drive gets the power it needs and is in the right format.
Powered versus non-powered external drives
All external drives need the power to work. But larger external drives need so much power they can’t draw it through cable from your device and you need to connect them to mains power instead.
When you plug your hard drive in, it tells your iPhone or iPad how much power it needs. If your device can’t deliver that much power, an alert appears onscreen and the drive doesn’t work.
For some users, this happens even if the drive shouldn’t need an external power source.
You can often bypass this alert by keeping your iPhone or iPad connected to power at when you connect your external hard drive. You need the right adapter in order to do this.
Which external drive formats are compatible?
Think the format for your external storage as the language it’s written in. If your iPhone or iPad can’t speak that language the drive won’t work. You can change the format of a drive using a Mac or Windows PC, but doing so usually erases everything on it.
Any unencrypted format you can create with Disk Utility in macOS works with iPadOS and iOS 13. That includes:
- Mac OS Extended (HFS+)
- Apple File System (APFS)
- MS-DOS (FAT 32)
The last two options work with Windows and macOS. So you could use the same hard drive for your PC, Mac, iPhone, and iPad! iPadOS and iOS 13 also recognize partitions in your storage, seeing each partition as an individual drive.
One problem is that iPadOS and iOS 13 can’t access encrypted drives. No option appears to unlock encrypted drives on your iPhone or iPad, so you’re unable to access the contents. Hopefully, that changes with future updates.
Can I reformat my drive using an iPad or iPhone?
If your external drive is written in an incompatible format, you need to use it to a Mac or PC to change it. Sadly, there are still some things you need to use a computer for.
Even with iPadOS, the iPad can’t take over everything yet!
Can I access the contents of my computer by connecting it?
Connect accessories that have built-in storage to view their contents with your iPhone or iPad. Things such as dictaphones or cameras work great. But you can’t view the contents of a computer by connecting your devices.
Of course, most of us are happy enough using the computer itself to view its contents. And you can still transfer data to your iPhone or iPad using iTunes or Finder, just like you always could.
How do I eject an external drive from my iPhone or iPad?
You may have noticed there’s no eject button for external hard drives in the Files app. Unlike the on a computer, you don’t get a nasty error notification should you disconnect a drive unexpectedly. In fact, that’s how you’re expected to do it!
So long as you aren’t in the middle of copying, pasting, or creating new files on an external drive, you can simply unplug the cable when you’re finished using it.
Why couldn’t it always be so simple?
If you are super concerned, you can always shut down your iDevice and then manually remove the external drive.
Using an external drive on your iPhone or iPad
After you connect an external drive to your iPhone or iPad, you can view its contents using the Files app. This app is the best way to manage files on your device, in your cloud storage services, and now on your external hard drives.
With Files, you can preview, rename, open, copy, move, and delete documents and folders. In iOS 13 or iPadOS and later it’s possible to zip and unzip different files. You can even watch videos and listen to music within the app using its built-in media player.
iPadOS and iOS 13 give you read and write privileges on external hard drives. That means it’s possible to create and edit files on your drive instead of only being able to view what’s already there. You can even write to external drives using third-party apps.
How do I find my external drive in the Files app?
Open the Files app on your iPhone or iPad and tap Locations to see your external drive. If you don’t see a Locations button, keep tapping Browse at the bottom-right of the screen to go back.
From the Locations page, you should see your external drive listed alongside other storage options. Tap it to view and edit the contents.
Do I need third-party apps to open my external drive’s files?
You don’t need a third-party app to access the contents on your external drive, you can use the built-in Files app instead. That said, you can use a third-party file-management app, such as Documents by Readdle, if you prefer.
Can I view pictures, listen to music, and watch movies on my external drive?
You can open a wide range of documents within the Files app. That means you don’t need to copy content from your external storage to your iPhone or iPad to open it. Play videos, listen to music and view pictures using the built-in media player in Files.
You can even open and mark up PDF documents.
But there are still some specialist formats, like.psd Photoshop files, that still need third-party apps to work. For these formats, you typically need to move them to your device and open them in a specific app.
How do I save photos, music, and movies to my device?
Transfer content from your external drive to your device to make it available even when your drive isn’t plugged in. There are two ways to do this:
- Move files to On My [iDevice].
- Save content to Photos from the Share Sheet.
Tap Select and then use the Folder icon to move files or folders to your device within the Files app. You can add them to specific folders, or simply move them to On My iPhone or On My iPad.
Alternatively, select the photo or video you want to save and tap the Share button. From the share sheet, choose Save Image or Save Video. You can find the saved content in the Photos app on your device.
How do I move content from one external drive to another?
With iPadOS and iOS 13, you can transfer content from one external storage system to another without saving anything to your device.
To do so, you normally need a multi-port adapter or a USB hub that allows you to connect multiple hard drives to your device at once. Then use the Move function in Files to move content from one drive straight to another.
To move content using Files, tap Select and choose whichever files or folders you want to move. Tap the folder icon, then choose the destination you want to move the files to. You can use this same process for uploading files to a cloud storage service.
Alternatively, drag-and-drop a file to a new location in the Files app. This is even easier using the improved split-screen features of iPadOS!
Can I free up storage by saving content to an external drive?
The ability to access external drives from your iPhone or iPad is a lifesaver for those of us running low on storage. Simply connect an external drive to your device and copy your larger files or folders to it. Then delete those files from your iPhone or iPad.
Of course, data saved to your external drive isn’t accessible without connecting the drive. But it’s a great place to store rarely used files and folders that you’re unlikely to need soon.
You could even use the same method to move content from a cloud storage service to an external drive. Of course, you need to wait for it to download first. But once it’s done, you could delete that content from the cloud to free up even more storage.
And it’s easy to bring content back to your device at a later date. Just plug your external hard drive in again.
As always, if there is irreplaceable content on your external storage, make sure you back it up elsewhere. External drives are easy to lose and can fail just as easily as anything else. There’s a great saying for the digital age to help remember this:
Two is one, and one is none.
What to do if your external hard drive is not working for iPadOS and iOS 13
Hopefully, you can connect and use your external drive without any problems. However, since iPadOS and iOS 13 are new, that may not be the case for a lot of users.
Apple should resolve most issues by the time iPadOS and iOS 13 are publicly released in fall. But in the meantime, check out our troubleshooting tips below if your external hard drive isn’t working in iPadOS or iOS 13.
This accessory requires too much power
The most common issue when an external drive is not working in iPadOS or iOS 13 is an alert that appears saying: This accessory requires too much power.
This happens when your external drive doesn’t receive enough power to work properly. You can normally fix it by supplying more power to the drive or to the Apple device.
We suggest using an adapter with a separate charging port for your device, like the Lightning to USB 3 Camera Adapter. Also, make sure you power your device from a mains supply, not from the USB port on a computer.
If your external drive requires mains power, make you’ve plugged in and switched it on.
If that doesn’t work, some users fixed it by connecting a USB hub to their iPhone or iPad, then connecting the external drive to that hub. This seems to bypass any software limits written into the drive itself.
Some content is unavailable
Other users received an error message warning that content on their external drive was unavailable. The most common cause of this error is when your external hard drive is written in an incompatible format that doesn’t work in iPadOS and iOS 13.
Take a look at the section above to see all the formats compatible with iPadOS and iOS 13. If your external hard drive is written in a different format, you can’t view the content using an iPhone or iPad.
You need to use a Mac or PC to reformat the drive to a compatible format. When you do this it usually erases all the content, so make a backup first.
You may also receive this error message if your external hard drive has a partition in an incompatible format. If this is the case, you can ignore the message and still use whichever partitions are still readable.
This accessory is not supported
Some external drives still aren’t supported. It’s unclear why these drives aren’t working with iPadOS or iOS 13 since Apple hasn’t released any information about drive compatibility. This error message might also appear when your external drive is faulty or damaged.
If your external drive is in the right format, it’s worth checking it for physical damage. Inspect the ports, cables, and enclosure for signs of anything that might cause problems.
Old-fashioned spinning drives easily break if they get dropped and pretty much all hard drives break when they get wet.
Also, be careful not to confuse Thunderbolt and USB-C connectors. Despite looking the same, they are subtly different. Make sure you use the correct adapter for your device and accessories, without mixing Thunderbolt and USB-C together.
Let us know your experience in the comments below. Is your external drive working on iPadOS or iOS 13 or not? What do you plan to use it for? Or have you experienced other problems? We’ll do our best to keep this post up to date and get you the help you need!
- For my 1st gen iPad Pro. The solution was two-fold
- Use Apple’s lightning-to-dual port lightning adapter with one port connected to AC power (this provides power to the iPad)
- For the 2nd port on Apple’s adapter, I connected a cable from my USB travel hub. That hub was also connected separately to power. Then I connected my external drive to the hub. Now it’s all working!
- Although Apple says that exFAT and FAT32 drives are compatible, no one I know has ever gotten it to work. From my experiences, the only reliable formats for your external drives and iPadOS / iOS 13+ are macOS Extended journaled AND APFS. Both allow me to Read and Write without issue. Hopefully, Apple fixes this compatibility issue in the future
- Dr 3 recommends using a powered hub and connected your devices to that hub, then the hub to the iPad/iPhone. Worked with his iPhone 11 Max, iPad 8th Gen, and iPad Pro
- Try naming the home folder on your portable drive DCIM, then create a subfolder to 100APPLE. This is the trick that finally worked for me and got my iPad to see my external hard drive
- I found it only worked connecting my thumb drive using a hub as an intermediary between the iPad and the drive. It did not work when I connected it directly using my lightning to USB adapter–this is how I set it up: iPad > Apple Lightning to USB camera adapter > USB Hub > external flash drive
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