How to Connect Portable USB Devices

Illustration of an iPad connected to a USB drive via an adapter

Lifewire / Jo Zhou

For such small, thin devices, tablets and smartphones pack a lot of power. This makes them veritable minicomputers for doing all sorts of tasks that used to be the domain of desktops and laptops.

This is especially true for Apple's iPhone and iPad, which benefit from an enormous selection of apps. Whether it is quick and dirty photo and movie editing or music composition, creative users can do a lot with Apple's devices. Add the fact that you can use it to post or share stuff online, and there are many reasons users want to transfer all sorts of media to their iOS devices.

Thanks to the use of Apple's proprietary ports — whether the old 30-pin system or the newer Lightning connection — transferring media to and from an iPhone or iPad hasn't always been an intuitive proposition. The same can be said about accessories and peripherals that rely on a standard USB connector, but there are several ways to move files or connect USB gadgets to Apple's portable devices.

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How to Connect a USB Device to an iPad

Adapters and Cables

Adapters and cables allow users to both transfer media and connect USB devices to an iPhone or iPad.

Whether it is Apple's official Camera Adapter or a third-party offering, the basic adapter cable features either a 30-pin or Lightning connector at one end and a standard USB port on the other. The idea is to plug one side of the adapter into your tablet or smartphone and then use the USB port on the other side to plug in your USB device.

For its part, Apple markets its adapter as a way to transfer pictures. It's a function that the adapter does well, allowing you to bypass a computer and transfer files directly from a camera.

One less-touted feature of such adapters involves the use of peripherals such as USB MIDI keyboards and microphones. The adapter works well for people who want to use their regular USB peripherals without having to buy versions specifically locked in to Apple’s proprietary connector. It's also a good option for users who want a wired connection for their peripherals rather than a wireless one. This use is not officially considered a capability of the adapter, so make sure that your peripheral actually works with the adapter. Compatibility can be hit or miss at times.

Look for USB drives or other products that are certified as Made for iPhone (MFi). They are designed to work seamlessly with iOS.

Mobile Memory Devices

If you’re not interested in connecting USB peripherals and only want to transfer files, portable memory sticks or devices are another option. These devices typically feature two connectors. One can be a Lightning connector for linking with an iPod, iPhone, or iPad. The other is a regular USB connector for use with a laptop or desktop PC. These devices also come with built-in memory for storing media. Just load your pics or movies from a PC, for example, and then connect to your Apple device and you're good to go.

You can also move files from your iPhone or iPad into the devices and transfer them to a computer, but that's not all. In addition to being able to transfer files or media, these portable gadgets also allow you to play video directly from the memory stick or device on your iPhone or iPad. Some even play file formats that Apple's iOS devices normally don't play unless you download specific apps. These include AVI and MKV files. Examples include the SanDisk iXpand and the Leef iBridge Mobile Memory stick.

Wireless Options

Another way to transfer files or connect gadgets is to bypass the physical connection itself and go the wireless route.

Many peripherals feature either Bluetooth or AirPlay connectivity, for example. These include keyboards of the typing kind such as the Rapoo E6300 and Verbatim Wireless Mobile Keyboard or MIDI keyboards for music like the Korg Microkey 25.

For file transfers, wireless memory sticks or dongles are another option. The Sandisk Connect flash drive, for example, allows you to wirelessly link with an iPhone or iPad and transfer documents, music, pictures, and videos to your Apple device.