How to use an external hard drive on an iPad [Video]

Apple recently released a 128GB version of the iPad, which should be very useful for those that store a lot of files on their devices- be it video libraries, photo libraries for photographers, or anything like that. Still, 128GB is nothing compared to what an external hard drive can hold, and it’s actually perfectly possible to get one working on an iPad.

What you need is the following:

  • Jailbroken iPad with iFile (app from Cydia)
  • USB adapter for your iPad; either the Camera Connection Kit for 30 pin devices, or the Lightning to USB Camera Adapter for Lightning connector devices
  • Portable hard drive formatted to FAT32 or another iPad-compatible format. I know for a fact that exFAT and NTFS won’t work.
  • External power system. This can be a hard drive that has its own power source, a powered USB hub, or an external battery pack like in the video

The video shows how you set everything up, though it will obviously vary a bit depending on the external power system you use. The setup in the video is completely independent of an AC outlet, and while I haven’t tested to see how long the battery pack can power the hard drive, I’m guessing at least 5 hours- though obviously you can buy a higher capacity battery pack. Because the drive is externally powered, that also means it won’t drain your iPad battery by powering it.

I think a flash drive setup would still be the better choice for a lot of people, but don’t underestimate the need for access to a terabyte of data on an iPad. Because this is also a two-way system, meaning you can transfer files to the device, it would for instance be possible for a photographer to back up images to a hard drive this way.

The cost of a lower capacity iPad plus the necessary equipment to add a terabyte of external storage is also much less than the premium for the 128GB model. An iPad 4 16GB WiFi is $499, and a 128GB version is $799. That’s a $300 difference that could be used like this:

(Disclaimer: I haven’t tried this specific combination of components, but it is essentially the same as what’s in the video, so it should work)

In this imagined scenario, $30 more than the price to go from a 16GB to a 128GB iPad gives you a whopping 2TB (~2000GB) of storage. Moreover, you get various accessories you could use for other things, like the USB adapter working for keyboards, the hard drive working on computers, and the battery pack being able to charge your devices as well. This accessory bundle would also work on future iPads (assuming they’re jailbroken), so you wouldn’t be paying the premium yearly.

Through the use of symbolic links you can even integrate the drive directly into your off-the-shelf App Store apps, creating a more seamless experience. Plug in your drive, open up your video player app, and browse gigabytes of data as if it was stored locally.

Like I said, this obviously isn’t for everyone, but it’s quite amazing that it actually works.

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Andreas Ødegård

Andreas Ødegård is more interested in aftermarket (and user created) software and hardware than chasing the latest gadgets. His day job as a teacher keeps him interested in education tech and takes up most of his time.

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11 thoughts on “How to use an external hard drive on an iPad [Video]

  • Avatar of JRDemaskus

    Hear that?
    That is the sound of my PC, not running.
    Today I will try to complete Turbo Tax on my phone.
    The last hurdle is to connect an external storage device to my phone, and I may never touch the PC again.
    Thank you Andreas. Your portable computing efforts are exactly the type of thing I have been looking for over the last 15 years.

    • Avatar of Andreas Ødegård

      Thought you would like this one :)

  • Avatar of moose or goose

    so… were you holding the camera….

    • Avatar of Andreas Ødegård

      …tripod? One of the legs are even visible in the video ;)

  • Does that work on an iPhone too?

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  • Hello…..

    A very interesting discussion…..kudos…:)

    Well i wanted 2 ask is it possible 2 straight away copy the file from the hard disk to my ipad app via ifile instead of copying the link……say i wanna see a movie and also wanna preserve my power battery backup…can i just transfer a file 2 an app via ifile and then disconnect the hard drive and see the movie in my ipad without the hard drive being physically conectd 2 stream the movie…..:)


  • First of all, this is an awesome post. Secondly, @ayu, I think you could probably have an app that plays movies and export your movie you want to watch off the external hard drive directly into that app; however I do not have an iPad and haven’t tried this yet. If you cannot do this, I would try getting Xilisoft iPad Magic Platinum. With that you might be able to add a file from your external hard drive to your iPad, and I know you can definitely add a file from your PC to your iPad using Xilisoft. Finally, does anyone know if the iPad 2 is compatible with Mac OS Extended (journaled) formatted external hard drives?

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