Can You Use an iPhone In Disk Mode?

You can't, but you can quickly transfer and sync files to a computer

The iPhone is many things: a phone, a media player, a gaming machine, an Internet device. With storage of up to 256 GB, it's also like a portable hard disk or USB stick. When you think about the iPhone as a storage device, it's reasonable to wonder whether you could use the iPhone in disk mode—a way of using the iPhone as a portable hard drive to store and transfer any kind of file.

Some early iPod models offered a disk mode, so it's reasonable to think that a more advanced device like the iPhone should also support that feature, right?

The short answer is no, the iPhone does not support disk mode. The full answer, of course, requires additional context.

Disk Mode Explained

Disk mode first appeared on iPods in the days before the iPhone and before you could get a 64 GB USB stick for under US$20. At that time, it made sense to allow users to store non-music files in the available storage space on their iPods and was a nice bonus for power users. 

In order to use the iPod in disk mode, the user had to enable disk mode through iTunes and the iPod's operating system had to be set to support accessing the iPod's file system.

In order to move non-music files on and off the iPod manually, users just browsed the contents of their iPod. Think about your desktop or laptop computer: when you click through the folders on your desktop or hard drive, you're browsing a set of folders and files. This is the computer's file system. When an iPod was put into disk mode, the user could access the folders and files on the iPod just by double-clicking the iPod icon on their desktop and adding or removing items.

The iPhone's File System

The iPhone, on the other hand, doesn't have an icon that appears on desktops when synced and can't be opened by a simple double-click. That's because the iPhone's file system is mostly hidden from the user.

A smiling man proudly shows his newly purchased iPhone 6.
Artur Debat/Getty Images

Like any computer, the iPhone has a file system—without one, the iOS couldn't work and you wouldn't be able to store music, apps, books, and other files on the phone—but Apple has mostly hidden it from the user. This is done both to ensure the simplicity of using the iPhone (the more access you have to files and folders, the more trouble you can accidentally get into) and to make sure iTunes, iCloud, and some iPhone features are the only way to add content to an iPhone (or another iOS device).

While the entire file system is not available, the Files app that comes pre-loaded with iOS 11 and up makes it easier than ever to manage files on your iOS device. To learn more, read How to Use the Files App on Your iPhone or iPad.

Adding Files to the iPhone

Even though there's no iPhone disk mode, you can still store files on your phone. You just have to sync them to a compatible app via iTunes. To do this, you'll need an app that can use the kind of file you want to sync—an app that can display PDFs or Word documents, an app that can play movies or MP3s, etc.

For files you want to use with the apps that come pre-loaded on your iPhone like Music or Movies, simply add those files to your iTunes library and sync your phone. For other kinds of files, install the right app to use them and then:

  1. Sync your iPhone to your computer.

  2. Click on the iPhone icon in the top left corner.

  3. Click on the File Sharing menu at the left in iTunes.

  4. On that screen, select the app that you want to add files to.

  5. Click Add to browse your hard drive to find the file(s) you want.

  6. When you've added all the files, sync again and those files will be waiting for you in the apps you synced them to.

Sharing Files Via AirDrop

Besides syncing files through iTunes, you can also swap files between iOS devices and Macs using AirDrop, a wireless file transfer tool built into those devices. Read this article to learn how to use AirDrop on the iPhone.

Third-Party Software for iPhone File Management

If you're really committed to using the iPhone in disk mode, you're not completely out of luck. There are third-party programs for Mac and Windows, and a few iPhone apps, that can help, including:

iPhone Apps
These apps don't give you access to the iPhone's file system, but they do let you store files.

  • Box: Free (requires a free account; paid subscription upgrade option)
  • Dropbox: Free (requires a free account; paid subscription upgrade option)

Desktop Programs
These programs provide a true disk mode feature, giving you access to the file system.

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