How to Connect USB Devices to an iPad

Connect USB devices to your iPad with these accessories

Man sitting at a desk with iPad connected to a camera and an illustration of a dog on the wall

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Tablets have become mainstream personal and business devices that often replace laptops, so people are looking for ways to use their tablets with the accessories they already own, such as keyboards and printers. Many of these accessories connect using USB.

That can pose a problem for iPad owners because there's one crucial element missing from most iPads—a USB port.

All 2018 and 2019 iPad Pro models come equipped with USB-C ports. The 2019 iPad Air and iPad mini come with a Lightning-to-USB cable in the box.

Apple initially avoided USB ports to keep the iPad simple to use and elegantly designed. Everyone likes well-designed products, but trading looks for functionality was not worth it for some people, and Apple eventually saw the wisdom of including USB in its newest models.

This doesn't mean that owners of older iPads can't use USB accessories. If you have the right accessory, you can use many USB devices with the iPad. Here's what you need to know.

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How to Connect a USB Device to an iPad

Using USB Devices With iPads With the USB-C Port

The 2018 and 2019 iPad Pro models with 11-inch and 12.9-inch screens have a USB-C port. They're the first iPads that do.

These models include the next-generation USB-C port that allows you to connect any USB-C device that's iPad-compatible to your iPad Pro. With these models, the problem of connecting USB devices to the iPad is solved.

However, it's only solved for USB-C accessories. If you have an older USB device that you want to use with these models, you need an adapter. Apple offers a $19 USB-C to USB adapter. Just plug your old USB devices into this adapter and then plug the adapter into the iPad's USB-C port, and you're good to go.

Using USB Devices With iPads With the Lightning Port

If you have a 4th generation iPad or newer, any model of the iPad Air, any model of the iPad Pro released before late 2018, or any model of the iPad mini, you'll need Apple's Lightning to USB Camera Adapter to use USB devices. You can connect the adapter cable to the Lightning port at the bottom of the iPad, then connect a USB accessory to the other end of the cable.

This accessory is designed to connect digital cameras to the iPad to import photos and videos, but that's not all it does. You can also connect other USB accessories such as keyboards, microphones, and printers. Not every USB accessory works with this adapter. The iPad needs to support it. However, many accessories work with the iPad, and you'll vastly expand the iPad's options for accessories with it.

The 2019 iPad Air and 2019 iPad mini come with a Lightning-to-USB cable, so you may not need to buy another adapter.

Using USB Devices With iPads With the 30-Pin Dock Connector

You have options even if you have an older iPad model with the wide 30-pin Dock Connector. In that case, you need a Dock Connector-to-USB adapter instead of the Lightning-to -USB Adapter. There are options on the market, but shop around and read reviews before buying to make sure you get something of good quality and wide compatibility. Like with the Camera Adapter, this cable plugs into the port on the bottom of your iPad.

Other Ways to Connect Accessories to the iPad

USB isn't the only way to connect accessories and other devices to an iPad. There are many wireless features built into the iOS you can use to interact with other devices. Not every accessory supports these features, so you may need to buy some new devices if you want to take advantage of these features.

  • AirDrop: This is an Apple technology that is available on devices running iOS 7.0 and higher. It lets you wirelessly transfer files between iPhones, iPads, and Macs. 
  • AirPlay: Apple's technology for streaming audio and video from an iPad to speakers and screens. If you have compatible accessories, AirPlay lets you stream audio and video, as well as mirror your iPad's screen on your TV via the Apple TV.  
  • AirPrint: This is Apple's solution for printing from iPads that don't have USB devices connected to them. Support for this wireless technology is built into iOS, but you'll need an AirPrint-compatible printer to use it, which most new printers do.  
  • Bluetooth: This short-range wireless networking standard is used for communicating with keyboards, headphones, microphones, iPads and similar devices. It's an industry standard, so you'll find the widest range of options here.