Can I use external memory with iPhone?

The short answer is no, iPhones do not support expandable storage or external memory cards like some Android devices. However, there are still ways to add more storage and access files on external devices.

Why don’t iPhones have expandable storage?

Apple has intentionally designed iPhones without expandable storage options like SD card slots or external memory card support. There are a few reasons for this:

  • Simplicity – By controlling the hardware and software, Apple can optimize performance and the user experience. Supporting external SD cards can lead to a more complex overall system.
  • Physical space – iPhones emphasize slim and sleek industrial design. Having an external card slot takes up valuable space internally.
  • Security – External storage could pose a security risk for sensitive data stored on the iPhone.
  • Encouraging cloud usage – Lack of expandable storage encourages users to instead use cloud storage and streaming solutions like iCloud, Dropbox, Spotify, Apple Music, etc.

Overall, the limitations on expandable storage are an intentional choice by Apple to optimize the iPhone experience even if it means users have less local storage. Many Android devices still offer SD card slots and external storage support.

What are the storage options for iPhones?

While you can’t add external memory cards to iPhones, Apple does offer various storage capacity options when you purchase a new iPhone:

iPhone Model Storage Options
iPhone 14 128GB, 256GB, 512GB
iPhone 14 Pro 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB
iPhone 14 Pro Max 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB
iPhone SE (3rd Gen) 64GB, 128GB, 256GB

So when you purchase an iPhone, you decide upfront how much built-in storage you will need. Unfortunately, this can’t be expanded later on, so you have to choose wisely!

What are some workarounds if I need more storage?

Here are some tips if you need more storage space on your iPhone:

  • Use cloud storage – Services like iCloud, Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, etc. allow you to store files and media in the cloud and access them on your iPhone. You can store as much as you want in the cloud.
  • Use external storage devices – You can connect external devices like USB drives, SD card readers, and hard drives using the Lightning to USB or USB-C camera adapters. This allows you to access and transfer files easily.
  • Delete unused apps and media – Scan your iPhone and delete old apps, messages, photos, videos, etc. you no longer need to free up space.
  • Stream music and videos – Use streaming services like Spotify, Apple Music, Netflix, Hulu rather than storing songs and videos locally.
  • Use a higher capacity iPhone – If you need more built-in space, consider upgrading to a 256GB or 512GB iPhone model.

While a bit limited compared to Android, there are still ways to add extra effective storage to your iPhone using the workarounds above.

Can I use an external SD card reader?

You can use a Lightning to USB or USB-C camera adapter to connect an external SD card reader or USB drive to iPhone and access the files on it. Here’s how it works:

  1. Get an SD card reader that connects via USB.
  2. Get the appropriate camera adapter for your iPhone model – either Lightning to USB or USB-C.
  3. Connect the SD card reader into the camera adapter, then plug the adapter into your iPhone.
  4. Open the Files app on your iPhone, select Browse and you should see the connected SD card contents.
  5. You can now view photos/videos, play music, and access any files stored on the SD card while connected.

This provides easy access to SD card content. You can also use the same steps to connect USB flash drives and hard drives as external storage for your iPhone.

Can I use an external hard drive with iPhone?

Yes, you can connect external hard drives to iPhone in the same way as SD card readers – using a USB camera adapter. Just connect the external hard drive to the adapter, connect to your iPhone, and access the contents using the Files app. This allows you to store a large amount of files, photos, videos, music etc. on an external drive and use it with your iPhone when needed.

When shopping for an external hard drive to use with your iPhone, look for a portable, USB-powered drive that doesn’t need its own power adapter. The MFi-certified SanDisk iXpand Flash Drive is a great option designed specifically for iPhone and iPad.

Can I connect a USB drive to iPhone?

You can connect USB flash drives and external SSD drives to an iPhone using the same method – a Lightning or USB-C camera adapter. The adapter allows you to plug in a USB drive and access the contents from the Files app. This provides expanded storage for files, photos, videos, music and documents.

When buying a USB drive for iPhone compatibility, look for ones with a Lightning connector designed to plug directly into the iPhone’s charging port. The SanDisk iXpand Flash Drive is again a great option made for iPhone and iPad. USB flash drives with traditional USB-A connectors will also work with the camera adapters.

How do I transfer files between iPhone and external storage?

Once you have connected external storage like an SD card, hard drive or USB drive to your iPhone, you can easily transfer files and data between the devices:

  • Open the Files app and tap Browse to see external storage.
  • To transfer from iPhone to external storage: Select a file > Tap Share > Tap Save to [Device Name].
  • To transfer from external storage to iPhone: Tap a file > Tap the Share button > Tap Save to iPhone.
  • You can also use drag and drop to move files between locations.

This makes it easy to move photos, videos, music and documents on and off your iPhone. Just remember – you need the physical adapter to connect external storage.

Can I play media files directly from external storage?

Yes, you can directly access and play media files stored on external storage connected to your iPhone:

  • Photos and videos – Open the Photos app to view photo and video content stored on drives.
  • Music – Use the Music app to select and play songs stored on external storage.
  • Movies and TV shows – Video files can be played using compatible apps like VLC and Infuse after connecting external drives.

This way you can store entire libraries of media on external devices while keeping your iPhone’s built-in storage free for apps and system data.

What types of external storage devices work with iPhone?

Here are some of the external storage options that can be used with iPhone using the appropriate USB camera adapters:

  • SD cards
  • SD card readers
  • USB flash drives
  • External hard drives and SSD drives
  • Pen drives and thumb drives
  • Compact USB hubs with additional ports

As long as the device connects via USB and is formatted correctly, it should work with the camera adapters. MFi certified devices designed specifically for iPhone and iPad connectivity are recommended for best performance.

What file formats can I use for external iPhone storage?

iPhones and the Files app support the following file formats for external storage:

  • Image formats like JPG, PNG, GIF, TIFF, HEIC
  • Video formats like MP4, MOV, M4V
  • Audio formats like MP3, WAV, AAC, FLAC, AIFF
  • Document formats like PDF, DOC, DOCX, XLS, PPT
  • Common compression formats like ZIP, RAR

As long as your files are in these common formats, you should be able to effectively use them with external iPhone storage setups. Specialty file types may not be supported.

Can I install apps on external storage for iPhone?

Unfortunately you cannot install iOS or iPadOS apps directly to external storage devices. The Files app can only access media content and documents stored on external drives. Apps themselves must be installed on the iPhone’s internal drive.

Some apps like photo and video editors give you the option to store their media content and libraries on external devices. But the app data itself resides on built-in storage. So external drives improve capacity for media but not directly for apps.

Is it possible to backup iPhone to external storage?

There is no direct method to backup your full iPhone system and contents to an external storage device. However, you have a few options to manually backup portions of your data:

  • Use the Files app to copy photos, videos, music, documents etc. to a drive.
  • Connect iPhone to a computer and sync iTunes or Finder to transfer files and media to the computer as a backup.
  • Use a cloud service like iCloud, Google One, Dropbox etc. to backup files, photos and device settings over the internet.

While not as seamless as a full system backup, this does allow you to manually create copies of your important iPhone data on external devices or in the cloud as a form of backup.


While iPhones do not support true expandable storage via external memory cards, there are ways to connect external USB drives and access their contents on an iPhone. This can effectively expand the storage capacity in many use cases. But the limitations mean an iPhone will never quite have the same level of storage expansion as some Android devices.

If storage space on your iPhone is becoming an issue, try some of these external storage options to add more capacity for your photos, videos, music, documents and other files. Just be sure to use the appropriate Lightning or USB-C camera adapters for connectivity.