iPadOS 13 in Action: External Storage Lightning Strikes

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While I love several of the new features in iOS 13 and iPadOS 13, the ability to use external storage is one I keep coming back to. It opens up lots of new and interesting possibilities that will make certain tasks easier and may even change the amount of internal storage in the iPads that we buy. As such, I’ve been pushing the limits to see what works and what doesn’t.

I can definitely say that Developer Beta 3 is an improvement when it comes to using external storage. Some of the complaints I previously had about how long it took for drives to show up have been addressed. I have a couple of SD Cards and a thumbdrive with lots of files that I have repeatedly tested with. While they could take up to two minutes to show up in the Files app in earlier betas, and occasionally wouldn’t show up at all, they now populate in a few seconds. I am also no longer having issues with cards getting warm during use. These improvements make using external storage so much more practical.

This week I decided to focus more of my time on what you can do with devices that have a Lightning connector. They may require more work and often more cables, but they do offer the same external storage capabilities if you can live with the extra effort. For example, you can see here that I was able to connect my iPhone XS Max running iOS 13 to an external hard drive.

You can also see that it took some doing. I have Apple’s Lightning to USB 3 dongle, which also includes a Lightning port to add power for connecting devices. However, that isn’t enough. In this case, because the external drive requires more power than Lightning can output, I had to introduce a powered USB 3 Hub. With the hub and its external power supply, I had no issues getting the drive to come up on my phone.

In fact, using the power of the hub, I was able to add a thumbdrive and an SD Card with a USB adapter, as well. As you can see, all three showed up and were simultaneously accessible in Files. The powered hub may add bulk and a lot of extra wires, but it also delivers a lot of flexibility.

If you want to keep it to one cord, your options are more limited. The same Lightning to USB 3 dongle will work, but only certain devices will show up with less power. I can get a thumbdrive or SD Card with USB Adapter to come up in Files, but only if a Lightning Cable is connected to the adapter. Said Lightning Cable also has to use a larger power supply. The old standby iPhone bricks won’t cut it, as I ended up with insufficient power warnings. You will need to use a 12 Watt or better to get positive results. As long as you do, this method will get you down to one cable.

If no cables are a must, you do have one option.

As you can see here, Apple’s Lightning to SD Adapter does the trick without the need for extra cables. Just insert your SD Card and you are good to go. To test this out, I watched an entire movie off an SD Card with my iPad Air tonight and it worked great. There were a couple of stutters and the built-in Files media player is as bare bones as it gets, but it got the job done. And this will only get better as the betas progress. After the final release of the OSs, we will also get the huge benefit of developers adding support for external storage to their apps.

External storage really does add a new dimension to the iPad as a full-fledged computing platform. It’s good to know that, while more work and wires may be required, user who have iPads with Lightning Connectors aren’t being left behind here. Apple has included all of the same features, and with a little effort, these iPads can deliver the same benefits of external storage as the iPad Pro.


James Rogers

I am a Christian husband and father of 3 living in the Southeastern US. I have worked as a programmer and project manager in the Commercial and Industrial Automation industry for over 19 years, so I am hands on with technology almost every day. However, my passion in technology is for mobile devices, specifically Apple's iOS and iPadOS hardware and software. My favorite is still the iPad.

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