How to connect and use a flash drive, hard disk, SSD, or SD card with your iPad

You can easily connect a flash drive, SD card, thumb drive, camera, USB drive, USB stick, memory stick, photo stick, and other kind of external storage with your iPad. Once done, you can move files between the external drive and your local iPad storage (or iCloud Drive).

In this tutorial, we’ll share everything you need and show you how to use flash drives on iPad.

This guide applies to all iPads, including the iPad mini and the powerful iPad Pro, and it works with all recent versions of iPadOS.

Connect and use flash drive with your iPad

What you need

Besides your iPad, you will need either:

  • a compatible flash drive with Lightning or USB-C connector, or
  • a Lightning or USB-C hub, or USB adapter to connect any regular drive

We do offer a few recommendations for each of these accessories below.

Important: The USB drive you want to connect to your iPad must have a single partition, and it should be formatted as APFS, exFAT, FAT, or FAT32. Most drives are formatted in one of these file systems. But in case it’s something else, you can use your Mac or PC to format them in one of the mentioned file systems.

How to connect an external drive to iPad

1) Make sure your iPad is adequately charged.

2) Wake your iPad go to the Home Screen.

3) Plug in your thumb drive with a compatible USB-C or Lightning connector to your iPad’s charging port. You can also plug in a USB-C or Lightning hub to your iPad and then connect a regular USB flash drive to it.

USB drive connected to iPad Pro via a USB-C hub
I have connected my regular San Disk pen drive to my iPad Pro using a USB-C hub.

4) Now, open the Apple Files app on your iPad.

5) You’ll see the connected drive in the left sidebar under the Locations heading. If you don’t see the sidebar, tap the sidebar icon from the top left.

6) Tap the drive name to access its files.

Select connected flash drive in iPad Files app

Troubleshooting: Are you looking to connect a huge hard drive?

I connected my 500 GB spinning external hard disk (HDD) to my iPad Pro (M2 chip), and it worked perfectly.

However, some large hard drives need significant power to work. Your computer can easily power these drives, but your iPad may not. In this case, you’ll have to use a powered USB hub. The powered hub will provide the required juice to the hard drive and also connect it to your iPad.

Now, let’s see how to use the connected drive on iPad for file transfers, editing, and playing the media.

Open or play media stored on the external drive

With a tap, you can easily open images, videos, PDFs, etc., inside the Files app. However, it may not be able to open some files. In that case, if you have an app downloaded on your iPad that can, the Files app will show ‘Open in that app name.’

Open in VLC button in iPad Files app
The Files app can’t open this particular video file, but the installed VLC app can. So, it’s showing Open in VLC.

Copy files from the external drive to iPad

1) Select the connected USB drive from the left sidebar of the Files app.

2) Go to the location or folder that has the files.

3) Touch and hold a single file that will bring up a list of menus. From here, tap Move.

Move a single file in iPad Files app

To copy multiple files at once, tap Select and choose the files. Now, tap Move.

Select multiple folders and tap Move

4) After tapping Move, you’ll see a small screen showing all the Locations. Select On My iPad (this is your local offline iPad storage) or iCloud Drive from the left side.

5) Finally, tap Copy.

Copy files from external drive to iPad local storage

The iPad Files app will copy the files from the external drive to your local iPad storage (if you selected On My iPad) or iCloud Drive.

Note: Whenever you’re copying files between two different storage (like an external drive and On My iPad), Move and Copy mean the same thing. In other words, choosing Move will just copy the files (and after copying, it won’t delete them from the original location). However, Move will do its actual job if you move files from one folder of your drive to another folder on that same drive.

Another method: Copy & paste

1) Open the Files app and select your connected drive under Locations.

2) Tap and hold over a file and choose Copy.

For copying multiple files, tap Select and pick the files. Now, tap More and hit Copy N Items.

3) Select On My iPad or iCloud Drive from the left sidebar.

4) Touch and hold over an empty area and tap Paste.

Paste copied file in iPad Files app

Another method: Drag & drop

1) Open the external drive inside the Files app.

2) Touch & hold a file and then drag it over On My iPad or iCloud Drive that’s visible in the left sidebar.

Drag and drop file to copy it from flash drive to iPad storage

Get images and videos from a flash drive into iPad’s Photos app

After you connect a thumb drive, camera, or SD card, you can see them in the Photos app and import images directly there.

To do that, open the Photos app > tap the sidebar icon, and you should see a new Devices heading that shows the connected drive, device, camera, or SD card. You may also see them in the Import section of the Photos app. From here, tap Import All or select the images and tap Import Selected.

However, some external drives won’t appear inside the iPad’s Photos app even if they show in the Files app. In this case, you can copy the images from the flash drive to your iPad’s Files app (steps already explained above). After that, tap Select > choose the pictures > Share > Save N Items. Now, open the Photos app, and you’ll see all these images there.

Access the flash drive in other iPad apps

Besides Apple’s own Files app, you can also access your pen drive in other apps that let you view the Files app inside it. One excellent choice is the Documents app.

1) After connecting your external drive to your iPad, open the Documents app.

2) Tap Files under the Connections heading. It will open the Files app interface. From here, select your connected flash drive.

Access connected drive in Documents app on iPad

Create a new folder on the external drive

1) Open your connected USB drive inside the iPad Files app.

2) Tap the new folder button from the top.

3) Give your folder a name and tap done on the keyboard.

Share, Move, rename, or duplicate files on the connected flash drive

When you touch & hold a file or folder, you’ll see the necessary options to share, move, rename, duplicate, etc.

And you’ll see the same options when you tap Select > pick multiple files > More.

Delete files and folders on the external drive

1) Select your connected drive from the left sidebar of the Files app.

2) Touch and hold a file or folder and hit Delete.

3) To get rid of several files at once, tap Select, pick the files, and touch Delete.

Delete external drive files on iPad

Eject the external drive that’s connected to iPad

There is a proper option on Mac to eject the connected external drives. However, on iPad, there is no such button or icon. You can simply unplug the connected drive, and it’s safely ejected.

Accessories recommendations

iPad family of devices uses two kinds of connectors. Cheaper (and older) devices such as iPad 9th generation use a Lightning port (the same as your iPhone), while almost all other newer iPads use a USB-C connector (same as your MacBook or Android phones). And the top-of-the-line recent iPad Pro has a USB-C connector with support for Thunderbolt/USB 4.

Lightning and USB-C connectors

So find out what connector your iPad has, and select the appropriate flash drive accordingly.

If your iPad has a USB-C port

You can use a thumb drive or SSD with a USB-C connector. Here are a few options:

If you want to use your existing USB drives with the normal USB-A post, then you will need a USB-C hub. Or, if, like me, you already have a USB-C extension that you use with your MacBook, then you can use that with your iPad as well.

If your iPad has a Lightning port

You can use a pen drive with a Lightning connector. Here are some options:

Or, you can get an extension dongle with a Lightning port and connect your existing drive with a USB-A port:

Flash drives with both Lightning and type C connectors:

  • JSL JDTDC (512 GB)
  • iDiskk (Also has regular USB-A port)
  • iDiskk (Has USB-C, Lightning, USB-A, and Micro USB connectors)

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