Using a Wi-Fi hard drive with an iPad

Q: I have an iPad 2 and am looking for more hard drive space. I see Macally, Hyperdrive, Kingston, and others all offer Wi-Fi hard drive storage devices, but can they all store pictures, music, movies, and apps? I am in need of an external hard drive to add more of my apps, due to my iPad’s storage being too small. I would like to add more apps for entertainment and work! Please help, thanks greatly!

– Mike

A: Unfortunately, due to the way that iOS works the storage is simply not directly expandable to any kind of external device such as a Wi-Fi hard drive or USB hard drive—at least not without resorting to jailbreaking based solutions.

The Wi-Fi storage options provided by companies such as Macally, Hyperdrive, Kingston, Seagate, and others don’t actually integrate directly with iOS; these devices work by offering a specific companion app that is used to access files on the external drive, and perform tasks such as playing back media files or transferring documents into other third-party apps that support the iOS “Open In” feature.

Some external drives also work as network storage (NAS) devices, in which case other third-party apps designed for accessing remote Windows or OS X servers can be used with these devices, but the capabilities are still extremely limited, providing only basic file access within these apps and data transfer into other apps.

For example, no external drive available for the iPad will allow you to access music files directly from the iPad “Music” app, or play videos within the iPad “Videos” app. Some of the wired options will allow you to transfer photos and videos into the “Photos” app, but they do this by presenting themselves to iOS simply as a camera, thereby taking advantage of the built-in features designed to work with the Apple iPad Camera Connection Kit.

So the bottom line is that not only can you not use these external drives to store applications or any application data, but you can’t really even use them to store media content unless you’re willing to play that content only via the limited set of third-party apps that will work with these storage devices.

If you’re willing to go through the process of jailbreaking your device, there are apps and extensions available on the Cydia store and elsewhere in the jailbreak community that will provide the ability to use a directly connected USB hard drive to extend your storage. Note that this usually requires that you power the USB hard drive separately, as the iPad is not capable of providing sufficient output through the Dock or Lightning Connector for this.

Note that we do not normally recommend jailbreaking your device unless you are a technically experienced user who is clear as to what you are getting yourself into, as many of the hacks and system extensions available in the jailbreak community can affect your device’s performance and stability. Further, jailbreaking is not in any way supported by Apple, and in fact Apple will refuse to service a device in a jailbroken state.