How to Use iPhone As a Portable Hard Disk

by Jeff Grundy

With up to 64GB of internal storage capacity, the iPhone 4 series of smartphones allow you to save thousands of emails, SMS messages, photos, music files and video clips on the device. However, if you don’t use all of that storage capacity, you may want to utilize an iPhone as a portable drive to carry around other important files for use on a laptop or desktop computer. Unlike other smartphones, though, accessing the internal storage media of an iPhone is not as simple as connecting a USB cable and installing a driver. Apple purposely disables this feature to prevent illegal file sharing and transfer. Consequently, to transfer files between your iPhone and a computer, you must use a third-party application.


Discover is a free app by mAPP, Inc. that is available as a free download from the Apple iTunes App Store (link in Resources). Discover enables Wi-Fi access on your iPhone and connects the phone to your network’s wireless router so you can access files and folders on LAN-connected computers. Additionally, Discover allows you to use your iPhone as a wireless external drive not only on one PC, but on all computers connected to the same Wi-Fi router. After installing Discover and configuring a password for the app, connecting to the router and computers on the network is relatively simple; just open Safari and navigate to “http://(null):8888.” Enter your password when prompted, then select a computer on the network to which to connect. If you browse the Windows network computers connected to the same Wi-Fi router as the iPhone, the phone shows up in the list of Network Computers, and you can map the drive on the phone just as you would any other hard drive on a network PC. Before you can access drives on network computers from the iPhone, though, you must enable sharing on each PC to which you want to connect.


DiskAid, made by DigiDNA, is much more than an app that simply allows you to use your iPhone as an external drive. With the commercial version of DiskAid, you can transfer files to and from your iPhone to your computer, as well as copy music and videos from iTunes and transfer important communication data such as SMS messages, contact information from your address book, email messages and voicemail data. The free version of DiskAid does not allow you to transfer iTunes media or communication files, but does enable you to access the file system on the iPhone internal driver as well as transfer Cameral Roll photos to a PC or Mac computer. Download DiskAid from the website (link in Resources) and use the one-tap installer to install it on your iPhone. After installing DiskAid, connect your iPhone to the computer with the phone’s USB cable and launch the app on your phone. Windows or OS X detects the drive in the iPhone and enables it as an external hard drive. You can then transfer files to and from the iPhone just as you would with a USB flash drive.


Unlike other free apps that enable you to use your iPhone as a portable disk drive, iPhoneBrowser is an open-source app you install on your Windows computer rather than the phone. After downloading iPhoneBrowser from the Google Code website (link in Resources) and installing the program, you simply connect the iPhone to the computer with the USB data cable and launch the application. You can then browse folders on the iPhone from the program browser and drag and drop files between the computer and phone as needed. iPhoneBrowser works with jailbroken and unmodified iPhones, but if you want access to all files and folders on the iPhone, you must jailbreak the phone. If you don’t jailbreak the iPhone, you can only access “Sandbox” folders for each app on the phone. This works well if you only need to transfer data from one of your iPhone apps or write to the app folder, but does not allow you to access iTunes music or videos or SMS and email data. When used with a jailbroken iPhone, though, iPhoneBrowser provides an intuitive interface for transferring any type of file from the phone to your Windows PC.


If you want to use your iPhone as an external hard drive without the hassle of launching a third-party application every time you want to transfer files to or from the phone, jailbreak it. Jailbreaking affords you greater control over almost every aspect of your iPhone and enables many of the features disabled by Apple, including the ability to use the iPhone drive as an external USB hard drive. Jailbreaking does void your Apple warranty but is legal and does not violate any law. While there are a few jailbreaking packages available for the iPhone, only the redsnOw from Dev-Team (link in Resources) allows you to jailbreak the phone without having to tether or connect the device to a computer each time you reboot. Jailbreaking the iPhone with redsnOw requires you to download the package, connect the phone to your computer and follow a sequence of button presses to flash the drive and install the new OS. When installing the redsnOw package on your iPhone, ensure you enable the “Cydia” option -- an app store for jailbroken iPhones -- so you can access free apps for your phone. After you jailbreak the iPhone, just connect the phone to your computer and use it like you would a standard USB hard drive or flash drive.

About the Author

Jeff Grundy has been writing computer-related articles and tutorials since 1995. Since that time, Grundy has written many guides to using various applications that are published on numerous how-to and tutorial sites. Born and raised in South Georgia, Grundy holds a Master of Science degree in mathematics from the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Photo Credits

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