USB Storage with iOS 13: The FAQ

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Confused about how to use USB storage drives with iOS 13 and iPadOS 13? We have answers to common questions.

Finally! I have been seeking the answer to the file format questions since iOS 13 launched. Good work, Josh.

Thanks for the excellent FAQ.

It sounds like I will need to use a 3rd party app such as VLC to view videos from a thumb drive. That is, the Apple TV app won’t play them?

I have a USB/Lightning thumb drive so will do some experiments with my iPad Air2 and report back…

Sadly, it can’t mount encrypted volumes. Like Tiger, it just ignores them. As I get closer to having a fully encryption lifestyle, the gaps get more annoying. Maybe next year?

OK - for a few years I have been using an iShowFast thumbdrive that has USB and Lightning connectors. The iShowfast app will see and open video files on that drive when it is plugged into my iPad Air 2 running iOS 13.1.3. However the drive does not show up in the File app, as demonstrated by Josh (No exfat item or similar). The drive doesn’t seem to have any hidden files. I will try reformatting it but I suspect the Air 2 might not be compatible.

Don’t know if this really belongs here
What about Car Play. I am asked to copy a file to a USB por from my USB-C port and use it through my car’s (a Subaru) USB -3 port. This is for a software update, specially maps. I have SanDisk thumb drive with both a USB-C and a USB-3 porrts

I couldn’t tell you for sure, since I don’t have a CarPlay-equipped vehicle, and things like software updates are always a bit different for each manufacturer. You should be able to download the file with iOS/iPadOS 13 Safari, unzip it if need be (this is a new feature in Files), copy the file to your thumb drive, and then plug it into the head unit in your car.

Looking at Subaru’s instructions, it looks like you’ll need two 2 GB flash drives formatted as FAT32. They also recommend some sort of battery charger because the update takes so long. Good luck, the entire process seems needlessly complicated.

I am looking for an USB stick that can work with an iPhone 11 Pro without extra power. I know that the lightning port can deliver up to 100mAh without external power supply. And I know there are USB sticks from SanDisk and Higoto (I tried both) that do not need more than the magical 100mAh to be powered. But they do require their app and the apps are not really helpful. I want to use the Stick directly with the “Files” App from iOS 13.

Anyone successful in finding a “regular” USB Stick that only requires 100 mAh? It might be USB-2, but the convience factor would outweight the slower speed.

Easy answer is to buy a convertible thumb drive with a Lightning port, like this one (I haven’t tried it, so I can’t vouch for its quality).

I have two thumb drives, one requires power and one doesn’t. The only thing I can figure is that the one that requires power has an LED light to indicate data reads and the other one does not.

Can you tell me exactly which one is the one -not- requring extra power?

Generally, it is easy to verify: Connect it to a Mac, then open System Information and go to the USB Tab. If you choose the USB stick there it will show you exactly how much “mA” your stick requres. It should not be above 100 mA.

Unfortunately I already ordered a number of sticks and had no luck so far. Most of them required 500 mA. Except the highly expensive new SanDisk iXpand. And that one will require an extra app that does not work very well…

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I have seen ads for those Photo Sticks that can download all your photos, find duplicates, etc… Do you recommend any of them for the iPad or iPhone?

Anybody get one of these Lightning equipped USB flash drives to work on an iPad Mini 4?

If so, could they detail the name of the stick?

I’d use caution with the drive shown here. I have one physically identical to it, but likely with different software that was meant to work before iPadOS 13 came along. In other words, the way it originally worked was to download a special App that would allow it to connect with my iPad Mini 4. It worked that way, but was very clunky. I wanted to use the benefits of iPadOS 13 and the new Files management scheme shown here, but this drive is not recognized. It comes right up on my Mac Mini and I reformatted it to ExFat and then to Mac OS Extended Journaled and neither of those formats would allow this drive to show up on my iPad.

I am pretty certain iPad Mini 4 can handle these external drives using the Files app as there was an on-line YT tutorial showing one being hooked up using a SanDisk SD Flash card hooked up through an Apple connector (SD flash to Lightning.)

As I posted separately, I would like to find a USB drive with a Lightning connector that will actually work with iPad Mini 4. Something that someone has used and verified.

I can say that a Picture Keeper flash drive does NOT work with the files app with an iPhone or iPad Mini 4 through its lightning connector, or by USB without power.

You can with a powered usb to lightning adapter on the USB end. Using, you know, this:

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I just discovered that you can use drag-and-drop to copy files as well. Find a file you want to copy, tap and hold on it until the popover appears, and then start dragging. With another finger (I found this was pretty easily done with my thumb), tap the Browse button at the bottom of the screen, and then keep dragging the file over the flash drive in the list. If you’re dextrous, you can even tap the flash drive with another finger to open it, if you want to keep nesting the dragged file into a sub-folder on the flash drive.

I haven’t verified by ordering any of these, but this article suggests some possibilities.

Thanks, Adam. I did get an SD card to show up using a cheap, Chinese multi-card to Lightning adapter. I figured current draw on an SD card would be almost nil, and it’s certainly under the 100 Ma Lightning port limit.

But it appears the fatal flaw using the Files app is that the transfer is only one way. You can read what’s on the card, but not write to it. That makes the whole idea half-past worthless in my estimation. Because it still takes a computer to back up the files, then transfer them to SD storage, then erase the files off iPad to gain more storage. I was seeing this as a direct to SD card storage option, but it is not. It would still require 3rd party software, and the stuff that came with my Lightning USB card was really clunky.

Seems like once again Apple has hobbled their iOS devices so that there is no practical way of making them more like a smaller portable lap top. They are getting there with keyboard and mouse support, but a Finder-like files system and storage are still MIA.


I just tested here and had no trouble reading and writing from an SD card connected to either an iPhone 11 Pro using iOS 13 or a 10.5-inch iPad Pro using iPadOS 13. So I don’t think writing to SD cards is a general problem, but is more likely related to your specific setup.

Could be, as I’m using an iPad Mini 4. Obviously older, but it still loads iPad OS 13. Without a doubt very frustrating as Apple leads you to believe all this stuff works, and it doesn’t. Thanks for your reply and trying this out, Adam.

BTW, can you provide all details of how your SD card is formatted? The card itself shows up as formatted one way and then the first folder in the hierarchy is formatted a different way (ExFat, HFS+, etc.)


Isn’t this just partition map vs. file system?