Bleg: External Storage Devices For iOS? Wireless or not.

So. I'd like an external storage device for iOS devices (iPhones, iPads, etc.) that the family could use on a long trip to store pictures (for backup of travel photography) and video (for taking along movies, TV, etc.). We're going places where we may not have reliable wifi, so cloud-based isn't an option.

Being able to stream from the storage device to iOS devices would be nice, but isn't essential if transferring things to and from the device is easy. I want to be able to move video, pictures, etc. back and forth easily without bringing along a computer.

I bought a Seagate Wireless Plus, which seemed to fit the bill, but I'm returning it — turns out the streaming video won't work on content bought through the iTunes store (!), and I find the interface through the app unusable.


Last 5 posts by Ken White


  1. That Anonymous Coward says

    Is streaming iTunes purchases a major requirement?

    A quick look online makes it seem that Apple doesn't let that happen with protected content.

  2. That Anonymous Coward says

    There is a project called Pirate Box. (Stop looking at me like that)
    It runs on a pocket sized router and the storage is a usb stick.
    It can have files uploaded to it via the web interface, which would satisfy being able to offload photos/videos from the devices during a trip.
    It also can stream (unprotected legal content) and offers a few other modules.
    The router is usb powered so pretty much universal or from a battery pack if need be.

    It also means you can pop out the flash at the end of a trip and easily move all of the collected photos/videos to a machine.
    It might be close to what you are looking to do, and relatively inexpensive.

  3. pjcamp says

    If only there were such a thing as micro SD.

    Oh, wait. That's Android. 8-)

  4. Chiu says

    Unfortunately, the only two ways to load DRM'd iTunes content onto an iOS device are either by downloading it directly from Apple's servers, or by syncing it via iTunes from the computer the iOS device is paired to.

    Your options are either to use a Mac to shunt the data between an external HD and the iOS device, or obtain copies without DRM.

  5. Chiu says


    Many things you can (anything on the Camera Roll for instance, which is what many such devices advertise.) But you can't import stuff to the built-in Videos or Music app except through iTunes, nor anything with FairPlay DRM.

  6. Tommy Lillitson says

    Try the Seagate wireless plus. It makes it's own hotspot and I believe it is iTunes compatible

  7. Scott Jacobs says

    @Ken Is it possible to take a laptop along with? If even a little Windows netbook, you could easily put the iTunes stuff on it and your movies and whatnot, and when you need to swap out media just turn it on, make the changes, and then turn it off again.

  8. Charles Farley says

    Mac makes things a bit difficult. Their walled garden approach to their infrastructure makes for an exceptionally robust, easy to support device, but it does mean that using it in a way that the designers didn't explicitly intend tends to be… clunky.

    That being said, what you want does seem to actually be possible. I have no experience with them directly, but I have heard good things about the SanDisk products. Specifically, this one:

  9. rwa says

    My experience with Apple is limited to "programming" with a IIe as a kid and battling, cursing and ultimately destroying an Old-World Mini so I am totally unqualified to wisely advise you on this. Having said that, have you thought of a Raspberry-Pi with a cheap travel usb drive and wireless dongle?

  10. James H McCardle says

    Mix that with a handful of microSD cards in the 32 gb range and you should be fine. The cost for a TB of storage would be close to $300, but you shouldn't need that. Just use a Sharpie to mark the ones you're storing music and videos on (give them a number like 1, 2, 3 and then store it as a note in your phone/ipad). Then grab like one, maybe two for extra photo space.

    Current compression schemes have hour long TV shows down to the hundred megabytes (more or less). Each of these SD cards would probably hold 40-50 hours of movies/TV shows.

  11. barnassey says

  12. says

    Let me commend you for your persistence in looking for a non-cloud-based solution; these days it feels like "the cloud!" is proposed as the be-all and end-all solution to all such needs, but I seriously question the need to have to go through the open Internet to transfer content between me and myself.

    Get prepared for the fact that there may be no way for third parties to provide what you describe: iTunes movies/TV shows still have DRM, contrary to music. This means they have to be decoded by iOS, and I'm not sure third parties (apps/storage providers) have any way to provide content to iOS in such a way that it will decode it (I used to work on iOS media apps). Sorry about that; Apple should have improved iOS in this domain eons ago.

  13. Rick H says

    After I discovered how nearly impossible it is to simply move files from one device to another – something that computers have done for decades – I gave up on iOS for anything beyond text messaging. Call me a luddite, but fuck that.

  14. Js says

    Sell it and buy an Android device and use the leftover cash to get a micro SD card. Simples!

  15. says

    @chiu: besides "by downloading it directly from Apple's servers, or by syncing it via iTunes from the computer the iOS device is paired to", there is also home sharing , though I am not sure third party storage providers can implement it in a way such that iOS devices can access it (given your Apple ID has to be involved for client iOS devices).

  16. Thomas Downing says

    Last ditch option, only if you 1) can't find the solution you are looking for, and 2) can't live without the transfer capabilities you want. Take access to the cloud with you, rent a BGAN base station. Rentals are pretty affordable, but depending on how much you stream, the satellite charges could mount up. I regularly use a Hughes 9211 with great success.

  17. Mat says

    Yeah, due to how apple sets things up, transferring stuff you bought via iTunes is via the iTunes program only. Just another reason to prefer non-DRMed files.

  18. Matt says

    Beyond the "Fuck apple" consensus, which tends to be reasonable considering how apple treats their customers and their products in about the same light as North Korea:

    anything that has the correct adapter you can at least plug in to your devices to play stuff back on them. It's inelegant, but you said no cloud. Alternatively, you could look up things like DLNA/UPNP solutions where your device is the DLNA/UPNP solution that sends the data to whatever else nearby you want to receive the data.

    Example of that:
    Or try some of these:
    Those are the receiving side. You'll have to pick something for the server/host side as well.

    Keep in mind you can test these before you travel to see if any of them are worth your time or just "fuck it" complicated.

  19. Avraham Adler says

    Check out a NAS by synology. I bought DS216+. Has iOS and android apps for photo, video, music streaming.

  20. Bob Sacamano says

    Second the use of SD cards for retrieving video. But you can't put photos on there with the camera connection kit.

    That leaves travel with a laptop as the only option that does not require you to buy extra stuff (although buying extra stuff does not seem to be a problem, it's nice to make do with what you've already got.)
    And if you travel with family, you will appreciate the extra screen, unless you have to meet extremely severe packing restrictions.

  21. DRJlaw says

    I want to be able to move video, pictures, etc. back and forth easily without bringing along a computer…

    [Seagate Wireless Plus] streaming video won't work on content bought through the iTunes store (!)

    If you want to work with content bought through the iTunes store you have virtually no option except for a computer due to the DRM, as others have noted.

    The simplest solution is truly going to be a laptop with a combination of iTunes and the Plex Media Server. If you do not need iTunes, I'd still recommend the laptop and Plex. You can simply copy photos and video that you take yourself onto the laptop for backup via the USB connection. You can also stream essentially anything (except for DRM-protected video) using the Plex app on the iOS devices from the Plex server installed on the laptop.

    Depending upon your views concerning format shifting, you can use Plex to stream converted DVDs, or instead use VLC to stream DVDs from the laptop to VLC running on an iOS device.

    You're already considering small computers, albeit NAS-like portable devices. It may be far easier and cheaper to use a laptop that you already have.

  22. Mercury says

    The easiest thing to do is probably to (temporarily if you want) move as much existing, unprotected content off your iPhone/iPad and onto an external hard drive, laptop or whatever.

    That will free up space on your devices so you can then load them up with protected content (movies) which are the files that are the biggest pain in the ass to use/access outside of the iEcosystem.

    As you take vacation pictures/video on your phone/pad you should be able to download them right away to a usb stick to preserve space on your pad/phone. You can also delete the movies as you watch them to free up more space.

    You can also download unprotected content from Youtube and watch that on your Ipad, via a usb stick….and/or bring along an external, usb DVD player

    The bottom line is it's easier to use many Android devices as proper computers vs. Apple which makes you pay through the nose for small amounts of incremental memory and locks you into their closed system any way they can which often amounts to renting everything forever on their terms.

  23. Mike says

    I second someone else's comment: Plex Media is what you want. It is free software you install on an old computer/laptop which will then stream to any other device.

    It'll stream home video, pictures, and also if you want any downloaded movies/tv shows. it is a really nice interface- like Netflix for your own files.

    It will stream to your phone, computer, chromecast, roku,…. in your home or on the go.

    YOU CAN ALSO STORE THE FILES LOCALLY ON A DEVICE – with the app, you can say 'these movies, these files, etc. download to this tablet today' and it then just converts them to the right format and downloads them to your tablet/computer/whatever, but keeps the original higher quality format back on the main plex server and you can then sync the playback as well. so that's handy for road trips, etc.

    A great service, and free. It is super simple to setup (just install the software) but if you have questions I'd be happy to answer.

  24. anne mouse says

    Another vote for "ditch the overpriced fashion item that makes it almost impossible to do really simple stuff like copy a file onto a USB stick."

  25. rwa says

    I also support the Plex Server idea. It now runs on the Apple TV, so you could use that for the iTunes media and Plex to view other videos, pics, music, etc.

  26. Trent says

    Take a laptop with everything synced to itunes on the laptop or loose the IOS devices. Apple actively tries to prevent what you want to do. There are some very expensive chunks of hardware that can provide streams but very few of them will be able to sync with itunes and would require files without DRM. It's hard to beat a problem when the manufacturer wants to prevent you from beating it.

  27. Erik says

    One thing unspecified is how much storage you think you need. It's usually pretty hard to fill up a 128 GB iDevice just shooting photos. If you shoot a ton of 4K video then, yes, you can accomplish this, but still 128 GB goes a very long way. My personal solution to this problem has been to just bring my MacBook Pro with me and download whatever excess photos and videos I shoot onto it, but since the iDevices have hit 128 GB that's really not been an issue. For my GoPro and DSLR I just bring extra SD / MicroSD cards. My experience with "spinning rust" (magnetic media) external hard drives is that they don't always take travel well – they don't like being moved in general and throwing them in a bag has what I consider to be an unacceptable risk of failure (probably 2% – 5% on a long trip). SSDs are much better for this, but also more expensive in high capacity formats.

    Another thing (and I'll get slagged by many for saying this) is that most stuff doesn't need to be shot or stored at maximum resolution. A 4K screen is only about 8 megapixels, and for the overwhelming majority of people that's the best-case scenario for viewing anything. Most images are viewed on Facebook, Instagram, etc., at about 1 megapixel or less. Very little video is viewed at 4K, and to be honest most phone / GoPro 4K video isn't worth the extra storage required for going beyond 1080P – the lenses and sensors aren't really good enough unless the natural lighting is exceptional (I've already spent enough time and money being disappointed there). So the overwhelming majority of people wind up shooting still images with ~2-8 MB of data, and then literally never view it in a manner that justifies more than 0.5MB of storage. I still love ultra-HD viewing devices (4K televisions, 5K computer screens, 5MP iPad Pro, etc) and appreciate the difference they can deliver – but the difference usually only shows up with at least prosumer gear.

  28. Kevin White says

    I would suggest looking into creating an OwnCloud installation (, running on a Raspberry Pi 3 ($35) with a USB drive of some kind (can be mechanical external, thumb drive, whatever matches your size needs – ~$100 or less).

    There's a free iOS app for owncloud that you can point to your own server and use to transfer files directly to and from your iOS device. You can create additional users to share content, or you can send them links that will let them view content.

    Getting OwnCloud server (community) running on an RPi3 is not that hard. Getting it secured with TSL is a little harder, but not completely necessary. Maybe the hardest thing is setting it up to run safely from your home network. Alternatively, you can lease some server space to run it remotely… but you might as well just use dropbox or similar if you're going to do that.

  29. Kevin White says

    ah, not cloud based. sorry.

    well… you could the same exact setup, no added hardware, and use the built-in wifi chip in the RPI3 to create an ad-hoc wifi network to which you can connect your iOS devices (all at once if you want).

    same interface, same everything, except no need to worry about TLS, or punching holes in your home network firewall. the only real issue is powering RPi3, and possibly the external drive. It won't be portable and usable at the same time, unless you hand craft a battery pack.

    I should ask – what kind of streaming are you thinking about? to an Apple TV? That might be hard. If you just mean you'd like all your iOS devices to have access to everything, then you got it.

  30. Alexei Tetenov says

    I recommend the HooToo TripMate Titan. You can plug in a 4 port usb hub into this combination WiFi router/battery and stream all kinds of files to an iPhone, iPad, Android phone, etc. For ios and android there is a TripMate app that let's you play most file types/videos. There are integrations to other video players for video file types that are not playable by the TripMate app.

    I copied a bunch of videos to a hard drive plugged into a usb hub which was plugged into the TripMate Titan. I used this setup for two 16 hour car trips so that my kids could be entertained and plan to bring this setup to Europe for a 3 week trip.

    The one unexpected consequence was that my iPhone 4s was connected to the TripMate wireless network to play podcasts and therefore my Google Maps app would not connect to the internet via my iPhone's 3g connection at the same time. I had to transfer or cache the podcasts to my phone, disconnect from the TripMate wifi, and connect to the internet via my iPhone Ting/Sprint 3g service. I couldn't do 3g internet on my phone and wifi streaming via the TripMate at the same time, unless I configure the TripMate to use a different device's internet/tethering.

    HooToo Wireless Travel Router, USB Port, High Performance, 10400mAh External Battery Pack Travel Charger – TripMate Titan (Not a Hotspot)

    Good luck and please let us know what you choose.

  31. JNGG says

    I can highly recommend LaCie Fuel portable wireless harddisk either 1 or 2 TB.

    Or if it's too expensive, and you only need a small wireless portable device, you might also go for TP-LINK M7350 mobile 4G modem which supports a SDHC SD Micro memory card.

    The M7350 can provide hotspot functionality to several wireless devices simultaneously and act as a mobile storage device.

  32. F5 says

    It may be too late for your trip, but Jeff Attwood has an article that describes his use of the HooToo HT-TM05 TripMate Titan that Alexei Tetenov mentioned.