iPadOS 13 in Action: External Storage Support is Hit and Miss So Far

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Before I get into this, I want anyone reading to bear in mind that I am talking about beta software in this article and ones to follow. This is not meant to be a review, but more of a changelog for anyone following along. I am definitely not throwing stones at Apple here, as development of iPadOS and iOS are ongoing, but simply relaying my experience with the beta so far.

That said, external storage support, which is definitely my most anticipated new iPad feature, is still a mixed bag. First off, being a Windows user makes it more difficult to use a large USB 3 hard drive with the iPad. I’m not going to blame Apple for not supporting NTFS, but this will make it harder for many iPad users like myself to take full advantage of this new capability.

For example, neither my current work hard drive or my home photo backup drive is going to ever work with my iPad Pro unless I go to the trouble of setting up an SMB share, as that is the only way iPadOS and iOS can work with NTFS. The only other options for us Windows apostates is to either backup, reformat and reload existing drives or to buy one specifically for iPad use and format it as exFAT. This isn’t the end of the world since an exFAT drive is still fully compatible with Windows, but most standard drives that aren’t specifically set up for other systems usually come formatted as NTFS, so this will require a little work after purchase.

I can work around not having a compatible USB 3 hard drive. I have one 128 GB thumbdrive that works with my iPad Pro using a HyperDrive USB-C hub. I also have four SD Cards that are either 64 GB or 128 GB. All of the above are formatted as exFAT, so they are all compatible. Well, in theory.

My thumbdrive, which is over half full, works just fine. Unfortunately, using SD Cards has been very hit and miss so far for a couple of reasons. First off, there is an odd little bug in iPadOS so far that makes all SD Cards that haven’t been given a specific name show up a read-only. As you can see here, the name that shows up in the Files app indicates that something is off.

I connected the same card to my Windows laptop and gave it a name. It immediately showed up in the Files app and it works fine.

That’s a strange bug that should be addressed. but at least the fix is easy. This was the case for two of my SD Cards. I can now use both of them with my iPad Pro without issues.

Unfortunately, the two other SD Cards, the ones that have the most content already loaded on them, won’t show up in the iPad OS Files app. Not only that, they get quite warm while inserted into my USB-C hub when it’s connected to my iPad. Note that neither of these things happens with the same hub plugged into my Windows laptop. I have also tried these two cards with two other USB-C dongles with the same results. Also, the SD Cards that work on my iPad remain cool to the touch while in use. This is a little concerning.

Is the number of files the problem? Is it a particular file or file type? The type of card? The speed? Unfortunately, I don’t have any real insight into this yet, as all of the cards are pretty comparable as far as brands and builds. I also haven’t found much information about external drive issues online other than the card naming trick above.

We are just on beta 2 right now, but it seems strange that I’m not seeing much about these issues elsewhere. I would suspect that I might have a faulty USB-C hub, but the fact that two other dongles that also work fine with my laptop also show the exact same behavior makes me doubt that. Time and more testing will tell.

All I can say is that it’s time to file a Radar with Apple and hope these are already noted bugs that are soon to be addressed in an upcoming beta. I hope so, because I still have very high hopes for external drive support on the iPad. I would be pretty disappointed if the final version of iPadOS is this flaky when it comes to SD Cards, but knowing Apple, I don’t think that will be the case.


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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