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An OWC Mercury Elite external drive with an iPad and iPhone showing the Copy That app

How Do You Connect External Storage to Your iPhone & iPad?

Earlier this week, we announced our new iOS & iPadOS app called Copy That. It lets you easily copy photos and videos from your iPhone or iPad to an external storage drive. You can select what you want to copy, how you want to copy it, and where you want it to go.

Now that we’ve made it easy to back up your mobile media, only one question remains: How do you connect external storage to your iPhone & iPad?

You can connect your iPhone or iPad to external storage in one of two ways:

  1. Directly connect an external drive
  2. Connect to a network share

Directly Connect an External Drive

You can use any USB disk with your iPad & iPhone—although depending on your disk & mobile device, you might need an adapter cable. Also, the disk needs to be preformatted—you can’t format it on your iPad or iPhone. The disk can be formatted APFS, HFS+, exFAT, or FAT32. exFAT and FAT32 work great for sharing with both Macs & PCs; you can also share APFS & HFS+ with MacDrive.

Also, your iPad/iPhone doesn’t put out a lot of power—it works with thumb drives, but with anything larger, you’ll need to use a disk that has its own power supply.


If you have an 11-inch iPad Pro (any generation), a 12.9-inch iPad Pro (3rd generation or later), or iPad Air (4th generation):

Good news! Your iPad has a built-in USB-C port. If you have a USB disk with a USB-C connector, you can plug the disk directly into your iPad. That’s it!

If your USB disk doesn’t have a USB-C connector, you can use an adapter cable. A couple of examples:

OWC USB-C to USB-A (USB 3) Adapter Cable

owc usb-c to usb-a adapter

Apple USB-C to USB Adapter

usb-c to usb-a adapter

If you have an iPhone or any other iPad:

If your mobile device has a Lightning port, it’s still really easy to connect to an external drive—all you need is a Lightning to USB adapter:

Lightning to USB Camera Adapter

Apple Lightning to USB Camera Adapter

Lightning to USB 3 Camera Adapter

Apple Lightning to USB 3 Camera Adapter

We recommend Apple’s Lightning to USB 3 Camera Adapter—it includes an additional Lightning port so you can keep your iPhone/iPad connected to power during the copy process—copying large numbers of files can take some power.

Connect to a Network Share

Your iPad/iPhone can also connect wirelessly to a network share. Once connected, Copy That can copy files directly to your network.

To connect to a network share:

  1. Open the Files app on your device
  2. Tap the Browse tab
  3. Tap the ellipses button in the top-right corner
  4. Tap Connect to Server
Connect to server on an iphone

You will then need to respond to the standard login questions such as Server name, Guest or Registered User, Password, etc.

Cloud services

iCloud Preferences icon

While you can use Copy That to copy to iCloud Drive, you can’t copy to 3rd-party cloud services (such as Dropbox or Google Drive). Apple’s security sandboxing doesn’t allow enough access to support Copy That’s features.

Copy That Pricing

OWC Copy That App Icon

OWC Copy That is available for free in the App Store. Special pricing for in-app purchases will be available through the end of 2020. Currently priced at $.99, it will increase to $2.99.

In-app purchases will include Verified Copy, a more secure way to copy, verify copies of data by comparing to originals. Also included is Delete From Device – the ability to delete items from the iPhone or iPad.

External Drives

OWC is the leader in external storage solutions. From the OWC Mercury Elite Pro Dual with 3-Port Hub to the bus-powered OWC Envoy Pro EX, or the pocket-sized OWC Envoy Pro Elektron – we have you covered! Check out all of our external drive solutions at MacSales.com!

Video Tutorial

If you would like to see a “hands-on” demonstration, check out the video, “How to Transfer Files from Your iPad or iPhone to an External Drive

OWC Rick R
the authorOWC Rick R
Vice President Software Development - Windows
Rick Rockhold has been obsessed with making software for 30 years. After co-founding Mediafour in 1995, he created several major software products, including MacDrive (https://www.macdrive.com). Joining OWC in 2017, he's now VP of Windows Software Development. Rick lives in Iowa with his family and his dog Max.
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  • I wanted to copy one video file, but when I select Photos/Videos, it tried to copy all of the videos, and I exceeded my iCloud allotment. Is there not a way (e.g., thru Files) to restrict which videos are copied?

    • Copy That is designed for bulk copying–there’s currently not a way to copy a single video (although that’s on our list for potential future additions).

      You can always copy individual photos and videos with the Photos app:
      * In Photos, select the photo or video that you want to copy
      * Tap the action button in the lower-left corner (the box with the arrow coming out the top)
      * In the menu that opens, scroll down to “Save to Files”.

  • Tried to connect to my network share with it’s normal signin but get “The operation couldn’t be completed. Operation not supported.” This was on an Ipad Pro with software version 14.2.

    • That’s a great question!

      If you’re asking about https://www.apple.com/shop/product/MXLY2AM/A/lightning-to-usb-cable-1-m:

      Before USB-C, USB cables only worked in one direction: One end must be plugged into the host (computer), and the other into the device. That’s why you don’t find cables with Type A connectors on both ends, and why external disks have Type B connections–Type A connections are for the computer, and Type B connections are for the device (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USB_hardware#Connectors). So the Lightning USB cable is designed to for the USB end to plug only into a computer.

      USB-C cleared all of that up–both ends of the cable are the same, and can be used interchangeably. When you plug in a device with a USB-C cable, the devices communicate to figure each other out.

      • But that answer requires opening the Photos app, and identifying the other device to the Photos app, which will then save the existance of that other device. This is unacceptable from a security standpoint. I do not want the device “saved” or “recognized” in any way on this computer.

        Can I simply delete Apple’s Photos app ?

        • Apple makes that a little difficult, but it may be possible with a little work. However, there will likely be side effects–some parts of the Photos app are used by other system components. If your committed to that choice, there are some articles online that provide step-by-step instructions.

          Aside from that, since the default action is to open an app when you connect a camera, there’s likely not a way to prevent the photos app from opening without giving your computer some awareness of the device.

  • You mention using hard drives (mainly SSD’s) with CopyThat, but what about just SD’s? You certainly can get SD’s with enough capacity to back up a lot of iPad’s/iPhone’s, but wouldn’t using SD’s solve the problem of needing power to run the storage media?