Can you use a flash drive on an iPad? Here’s the truth

By Dave Johnson - Senior Staff Writer
4 Min Read

If you have a flash drive, or you are about to buy one, then the next question is, can you use a flash drive on an iPad? After all, being able to use an external flash drive on an iPad can be incredibly useful, whether you want to access data from devices, transfer media, or upgrade your workflow.

can you use a flash drive on an iPad?

The answer is yes. Using a flash drive with iPad is much easier than it used to be, and you’ll have full read/write access to everything on the flash drive. You won’t even need to install any software, as the app you need comes preinstalled on your iPad.

Some of you might be confused because iPads and flash drives couldn’t really work together for far too many years. You could get around the limitation, but it took effort and money. That all changed with iPadOS 13.

And the most recent iPad models adopted USB-C so in some cases connecting is as easy as plugging in the flash drive. In other cases, an adapter might still be needed.

How to connect a flash drive to an iPad

If you plan to use a flash drive with an iPad regularly, it’s worth buying a new MFi Lightning flash drive that you can plug in directly. Apple’s MFi program should ensure that drives with that label meet the necessary power and file system requirements. Or, if you have an iPad Pro model with USB-C, get a USB-C flash drive.

But what about all those USB flash drives and hard drives you already have? To connect those to a Lightning-based iPad, you’ll need Apple’s Lightning to USB 3 Camera Adapter. Simply plug the Lightning to USB 3 Camera Adapter into your device, then plug the USB drive into the USB-A port. It’s not rocket science. For the USB-C iPad Pro models, any USB-C hub with a USB-A port should work. Take a simple example, the Apple USB-C Digital AV Multiport Adapter. Plug this into your iPad and then plug the flash drive and you can read the contents of the drive.

There is one big gotcha, which is that many USB flash drives require 500 milliamps (mA) of power, which is more than the iPad can provide. When that’s the case, iPadOS will usually alert you to the problem (or the drive simply won’t show up in Files). You’ll need to provide extra power by plugging a standard Lightning-to-USB cable into the adapter and a power source. That passthrough power should usually be enough to charge the device and run the flash drive. (Avoid Apple’s older $39.99 Lightning to USB Camera Adapter, which supports only the slower USB 2 and doesn’t provide passthrough power.)

Happily, flash drives that require only 100 mA of power work fine without additional power.

I’ve tested connecting a flash drive to my iPad many times. I’ve never had any problems.

Accessing Your Flash Drive

Whether you have an iPad mini, iPad or iPad Pro, the only software you’ll need to access the contents of flash drives is Apple’s Files application. Plug in the drive (with the appropriate adapter) and it’ll appear in the this app, which comes pre-installed on every iPadOS device.

If you’ve accessed a drive on your Mac then you should be familiar with this process. To see the contents of the flash drive, go to the Browse screen in the Files application. In a list of available drives, like your local or iPad, you’ll see the name of the flash drive you’re trying to access. Tap on it and you’ll open a window with all the files and folders.

From there, you can do whatever you want. Open files. Move them around. Put them on your iPad. Copy files from your device to the flash drive. Whatever.

Copying Files to and from Your Flash Drive

  • navigate to the file you want to copy.
  • Tap and hold it until a popover appears with commands.
  • Tap Copy in the popover.
  • Tap the Browse tab to return to the Browse screen, and then tap your flash drive.
  • Tap a blank spot in the flash drive’s directory, and then tap Paste in the popover.

Moving a file works similarly, except that once you tap Move in the popover, iPadOS displays a list of destinations.

Dragging to copy a file is easier on the iPad if you open two Files windows showing different locations in Split View. With Files as the frontmost app, swipe up to reveal the Dock, and then tap and hold the Files icon briefly so you can drag it to the left or right edge of the screen. Then, to copy files, simply drag them from one view to the other.

Obviously, you can also use the commands in the tap-and-hold popover to perform numerous other actions on files. These commands include Duplicate, Delete, Info, Quick Look, Tags, Rename, Share, Compress, and Create PDF.

Disconnecting The Flash Drive

To disconnect the flash drive, simply remove it from the charging port on iPad.

How accessing a Flash Drive With iPad is Useful

Even in the world with iCloud, there are still plenty of reasons to use Flash drives. If you want to carry around a couple of terabytes of pictures, work files, movies, etc., and be sure you always have access to them, get an external flash drive and connect it to your iPad.

With your files stored locally, you don’t have to worry about the vagaries of internet access. Even on a plane, you can always pop in the flash drive and access your files. Plus, a thumbdrive can hold proprietary files that you don’t want to risk sharing with anyone else.

Easily Use a Flash Drive on Your iPad

With the help of simple adapters, you can easily use a flash drive on your iPad. You may want to do it to access data from devices, transfer media, or upgrade your workflow.

By Dave Johnson Senior Staff Writer
Dave Johnson is a staff writer for GeeksChalk based in New Jersey. He covers news, how-tos, and user guides for iPhone, iPad, Mac, and Apple Watch.
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