You Can Now Access Flash Drives on an iPhone or iPad—Here’s How

An unexpected and useful feature of iOS 13 and iPadOS 13 is also nearly invisible, and for most uses, requires a special adapter. With this feature, the Files app now can “see” external storage devices.

That’s huge—now you can move data to and from an iPhone or iPad using standard flash drives, SD card readers, or even powered USB hard drives. It’s also a great way to play videos and other data that won’t fit in the available free space on your device. (You’ll still need an app on the iOS device that knows how to open the files—for videos, try VLC for Mobile.)

iOS should be able to read any unencrypted file system supported by the Mac’s Disk Utility, including the PC-focused MS-DOS (FAT) and exFAT, and the Apple-focused MacOS Extended (HFS+) and APFS. If you’re formatting a drive for sharing with a PC, we recommend exFAT; for use within the Apple ecosystem, use Mac OS Extended.

Necessary Hardware

If you plan to use a flash drive with an iPhone or iPad regularly, it’s worth buying a new MFi Lightning flash drive that you can plug in directly. Apple’s MFi program should ensure that drives with that label meet the necessary power and file system requirements. Or, if you have a 2018 iPad Pro model with USB-C, get a USB-C flash drive.

But what about all those USB flash drives and hard drives you already have? To connect those to a Lightning-based iPhone or iPad, you’ll need Apple’s $39 Lightning to USB 3 Camera Adapter. For the USB-C iPad Pro models, any USB-C hub with a USB-A port should work.

There is one big gotcha, which is that many USB flash drives require 500 milliamps (mA) of power, which is more than the iPhone or iPad can provide. When that’s the case, iOS will usually alert you to the problem (or the drive simply won’t show up in Files). You’ll need to provide extra power by plugging a standard Lightning-to-USB cable into the adapter and a power source. That passthrough power should usually be enough to charge the device and run the flash drive, although we’ve seen flash drives that work with the iPhone 11 Pro but not with a 10.5-inch iPad Pro. (Avoid Apple’s older $29 Lightning to USB Camera Adapter, which supports only the slower USB 2 and doesn’t provide passthrough power.)

Happily, flash drives that require only 100 mA of power work fine without additional power. To learn how much power a drive requires, connect it to your Mac, open the System Information app (in the Applications folder’s Utilities folder), click USB in the sidebar, select the drive in the USB Device Tree at the top, and then read the Current Required line.

Accessing Your Drive

Once you’ve connected a drive to your device, you can access it in Files. On the iPhone, or if you’re using your iPad in portrait orientation, tap the Browse tab at the bottom of the screen. On an iPad in landscape orientation, Browse appears automatically in the sidebar.

Either way, you can find your drive in the list of locations—remember that flash drives are often called Untitled or have funky names.

Copying Files to and from Your Drive

The Files app works a bit like the Mac’s Finder in that it lets you copy files by dragging or by using Copy and Paste. This latter approach is often easier:

  1. In Files, navigate to the file you want to copy.
  2. Tap and hold it until a popover appears with commands.
  3. Tap Copy in the popover.
  4. Tap the Browse tab to return to the Browse screen, and then tap your flash drive.
  5. Tap a blank spot in the flash drive’s directory, and then tap Paste in the popover.

Moving a file works similarly, except that once you tap Move in the popover, iOS displays a list of destinations.

Dragging to copy a file is easier on the iPad if you open two Files windows showing different locations in Split View. With Files as the frontmost app, swipe up to reveal the Dock, and then tap and hold the Files icon briefly so you can drag it to the left or right edge of the screen. Then, to copy files, simply drag them from one view to the other.

Even without Split View, you can also drag to copy files on the iPhone. Tap and hold the file you want to copy, but instead of letting up or working with the popover, start dragging. Then, with another finger (your thumb may work well), tap the Browse tab to switch back to the Browse screen, and then keep dragging the file onto your flash drive. If you’re dextrous, you can even tap the flash drive with another finger to open it—do this to nest the dragged file into a sub-folder on the flash drive.

Obviously, you can also use the commands in the tap-and-hold popover to perform numerous other actions on files. These commands include Duplicate, Delete, Info, Quick Look, Tags, Rename, Share, Compress, and Create PDF.

One last thing. On the Mac, you need to eject external storage devices manually by dragging their icons to the Trash, Control-clicking them and choosing Eject, or pressing Command-E. Once you’ve done that, you can unplug the drive. Happily, that’s not necessary for drives mounted in iOS—just use common sense and don’t remove a flash drive while files are being read or written.

(Featured image by Adam Engst)

Go Beyond External Hard Drives with Network-Attached Storage

If you’ve filled up your external hard drives or become frustrated by their limitations, it’s time to look into a network-attached storage (NAS) device. What’s a NAS? It’s an intelligent storage device that can accept one or more hard drives or SSDs and connects to your network via Ethernet.

NAS Benefits

A NAS is a good choice for anyone who needs access to lots of storage, but small businesses will particularly appreciate the benefits of a NAS. They include:

  • More storage: Most NAS devices provide multiple drive bays, so you can pop in a few large hard drives or even attach expansion units for a vast amount of available storage.
  • Expandable storage: A NAS is perfect if you anticipate your storage needs growing over time. You could start with 3 TB drives today and swap them out for 6 TB drives in a year or two.
  • Data protection: Drives fail, but some NAS devices can ensure that you don’t lose data if that happens by combining multiple drives into RAID arrays.
  • Network backups: Because a NAS is always available on your network and provides lots of storage, it can work well for on-site backups.
  • Laptop access: It’s fussy for mobile users to attach external hard drives to laptop Macs. An always-available NAS eliminates that annoyance.
  • Remote access and cloud storage: You can usually configure your NAS so it’s available over the Internet from outside your network. That means it can work like a private version of Dropbox that’s entirely within your control and has no monthly fees.
  • Streaming media: Home users with massive movie libraries can take advantage of NAS features that make it easy to stream video to computers, TVs, tablets, and smartphones.

NAS Features

Quite a few manufacturers make NAS devices, including WD, QNAP, Drobo, and my personal favorite: Synology. Prices vary widely depending on the feature set. Things to consider include: We are a Synology Authorized Partner and can help you with all of your Network Attached Storage needs from the basic to the most complex.

  • Number of drive bays: The most important decision to make when choosing a NAS is the number of drive bays. It may be tempting to start with a less-expensive two-bay model, but particularly if you want to use RAID to protect your data, that limits your storage significantly.
  • RAID support: RAID works well for preventing data loss if a drive dies. RAID 1 constantly mirrors the data from one drive to another so if one fails, all the data is on the other. RAID 5 uses data striping techniques with at least three drives to preserve data even if one drive fails. Proprietary technologies may be more flexible in terms of the number and size of the required drives. Synology’s RAID Calculator is helpful for figuring out how much space you get with different collections of drives.
  • Ethernet speed and ports: Most NAS devices have Gigabit Ethernet, but you can pay more to get 10 Gigabit Ethernet. That’s helpful only if you have an iMac Pro or a Thunderbolt 3 adapter. Also, some NAS devices have a feature called link aggregation that uses multiple Ethernet ports and an LACP-enabled Ethernet switch to balance traffic across ports for higher performance in multi-user setups.
  • Hardware encryption: For additional security, some NAS devices offer hardware encryption. It requires more CPU power but ensures that a stolen NAS won’t reveal your data.
  • Hardware transcoding: Those who host media libraries on a NAS may find this feature useful. It automatically converts high-resolution video files to versions that are optimized for the destination—there’s no reason to send 4K video to a 1080p TV.
  • CPU and RAM: Since a NAS is a full-fledged computer, it has a CPU and needs RAM to accomplish its tasks. If all you’re doing is serving files, the CPU doesn’t matter much, but for hardware encryption and transcoding, a faster CPU will be helpful. Similarly, those functions, or support for lots of users, may benefit from more RAM, so look for a NAS whose RAM is expandable.
  • Physical factors: Since a NAS runs all the time, pay attention to how much power it draws and how much noise it makes. In general, the less of each, the better.

Use NAS-specific Drives

One final piece of advice. It’s tempting to use old drives you have around, but doing so may be problematic for a few reasons:

  • Combining drives of different capacities can result in unusable disk space in some RAID configurations.
  • The likelihood of failure is higher with older drives, and even if a RAID prevents data loss, dealing with a dead drive is still stressful.
  • NAS-specific drives, as opposed to garden-variety drives, sport features designed to minimize data corruption, minimize vibration, and adjust rotation speeds for longer life.

Instead, look for NAS-specific drives, such as those in the WD Red and Seagate IronWolf lines.

Honestly, while a NAS is a great investment and effective addition to your technical infrastructure, picking the right one is a complex decision. If you need help, get in touch with us to see what we recommend for your specific situation.

(Featured image by Alex Cheung on Unsplash)

How Free Up Space with iOS 12 on an iPhone or iPad

Little is more frustrating than running out of space your iPhone or iPad. In this article, I’ll explain how to free up space on your iPhone and iPad in iOS 12. You can’t take new photos, you can’t download new apps, some things may not work at all, and iOS will nag you repeatedly about how you can “manage” your storage in Settings. Luckily, over the past few versions of iOS, Apple has significantly improved the options for clearing unnecessary data from your device.

Storage Graph

To get started clearing space, go to Settings > iPhone/iPad Storage. At the top of the screen, a graph reveals where your space is going, such as Apps, Photos, Media, Messages, Mail, Books, iCloud Drive, and Other. You can’t do anything with the graph, but it will likely reveal the main culprits.

Recommendations

Next, iOS shows recommendations for quick ways to recover space. These vary based on how you use your device, so you will likely see other options here.

Some of the possibilities include:

  • Offload Unused Apps: This choice is particularly helpful if you download a lot of apps that you later stop using. Enable it, and iOS automatically recovers space from unused apps when you’re low on storage. Each of these apps remains on your Home screen with a little cloud icon next to it, and when you next tap the app to open it, iOS re-downloads the app from the App Store. You won’t lose any documents, data, or settings associated with an offloaded app.
  • Review Downloaded Videos: Some apps, like Netflix, can download videos for offline watching. That’s great for when you’re on a long flight, but if you forget to delete the videos, they can consume a lot of space. This option shows them to you and lets you swipe left on any one to delete it.
  • Review Large Attachments: Photos, videos, and other files sent to you in Messages can take up a lot of space. This recommendation reveals them and lets you swipe left to delete those you don’t need to keep.
  • “Recently Deleted” Album: When you delete photos in the Photos app, they go into the Recently Deleted album, where they’ll be deleted automatically after up to 40 days. This recommendation lets you remove those images right away.
  • Review Personal Videos: Shooting videos with your iPhone or iPad can guzzle storage, so this recommendation shows you the videos you’ve taken in case you don’t want to keep them.

iOS’s recommendations are quite good and may be all you need to clear space quickly. However, if you need to dig deeper, you can look at the usage of individual apps.

Individual App Usage

The third and final section of the iPhone/iPad Storage screen lists every app on your device, sorted by how much space it takes up. Along with the app’s name and how much space it consumes, iOS helpfully tells you the last time you used the app. You may even see “Never Used” for older apps that you’ve carried over from previous devices but haven’t opened on this one.

When you tap an app, iOS shows more information about how much space the app and its documents occupy, and lets you tap Offload App or Delete App to recover its space. For some apps, mostly those from Apple, like Music and Podcasts, iOS also shows the data stored by the app and lets you delete any individual item (swipe left).

Focus on the apps at the top of the list—the list is sorted by size—since it will be a lot easier to realize, for instance, that you’ve never used GarageBand and recover its 1.59 GB of space than to sort through a long list of apps and their data.

With all these the tools from Apple, you should have no trouble making space on your device for more photos, videos, and apps that you actually want to use.

Recover Hard Drive Space by Deleting Unnecessary iOS Device Backups

Here is a way to recover hard drive space on your Mac. If you’ve been good about backing up your iOS devices to iTunes on your Mac or to iCloud, give yourself a gold star! Both backup destinations are fine, but there’s one potential downside to iTunes backups: they can consume a lot of space on your Mac’s drive. In iTunes, go to iTunes > Preferences > Devices, where you’ll see all the iOS device backups that iTunes has stored. If there are multiple older backups or any for devices you no longer own, you can get rid of them. Control-click the offending backup, and choose Delete. Or, if you want to check how large a backup is first, instead choose Show In Finder, and then in the Finder, choose File > Get Info. When you’re ready, move the selected backup folder to the Trash.

Stop Paying Too Much for a Family’s iCloud Drive Storage

Apple gives iCloud users 5 GB of free storage, but that fills up fast with iCloud Photo Library, iOS backups, iBooks, and more. Until iOS 11 and macOS 10.13 High Sierra, each person in a family had to buy extra iCloud space separately. Happily, Apple has now made it so everyone in a Family Sharing group can share a single 200 GB ($2.99 per month) or 2 TB ($9.99 per month) plan. The family organizer can start sharing storage in High Sierra or iOS 11 as follows: on the Mac, go to System Preferences > iCloud > Manage Family > My Apps & Services > iCloud Storage; in iOS, go to Settings > Your Name > Family Sharing > iCloud Storage. Any other family member can then cancel their paid plan and join the Family Sharing plan using their iCloud Storage screen.