How to Connect Portable USB Devices to iPads & iPhones

And transfer media between all your devices

For such small, thin devices, tablets and smartphones pack a lot of power. These minicomputers do all sorts of tasks that used to be the domain of desktops and laptops. This is especially true for the Apple iPhone and iPad, which benefit from a wide selection of apps. You can do a lot with Apple devices, including sharing your work online and transferring media to your iOS devices.

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

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How to Connect a USB Device to an iPad

Adapters and Cables

Adapters and cables transfer media and connect USB devices to an iPhone or iPad. Whether it's an Apple 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 a tablet or smartphone and then use the USB port on the other side to plug in a USB device.

An iPad connected to a USB drive via an adapter
Lifewire / Jo Zhou

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 if you want to use your regular USB peripherals without having to buy versions that are locked to the Apple proprietary connector. It's also a good option if you want a wired connection for peripherals rather than a wireless one. This use is not officially considered a capability of the adapter, so make sure that your peripheral 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). These devices are designed to work seamlessly with iOS.

Mobile Memory Devices

If you don't want to connect USB peripherals and only want to transfer files, portable memory sticks or devices are other options. 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. Load your pictures 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 to the devices and transfer those files to a computer. In addition to transferring files or media, these portable gadgets also play video from the memory stick or device on your iPhone or iPad. Some play file formats that Apple 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 and go the wireless route. Many peripherals feature either Bluetooth or AirPlay connectivity, for example. These include keyboards for typing such as the Rapoo E6300 and Verbatim Wireless Mobile Keyboard, and MIDI keyboards for music like the Korg Microkey 25.

For file transfers, wireless memory sticks or dongles are other options. The Sandisk Connect flash drive, for example, wirelessly links with an iPhone or iPad and transfers documents, music, pictures, and videos to an Apple device.