How to use SD and microSD memory cards with iPhone

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How to use SD and microSD memory cards with iPhone
Accessing a microSD card with an iPhone is easier than it used to be.
Photo: Cult of Mac

While your iPhone doesn’t have a built-in microSD card reader, adding a plug-in memory card reader is easy. And it requires no additional software. The same goes for iPads with a Lightning connector.

Here’s what you need to do.

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Removable memory cards are still useful

Even in the days of Wi-Fi, it can still make sense to give your iPhone the ability to read from and write to SD and microSD cards. They are still in common use. So much so that Apple brought the SD card reader back to the MacBook Pro in 2021.

The cards get used in cameras of many kinds: drone cameras, dash cams… just regular cameras. And many Androids have microSD card slots, making the cards an option for exchanging files between devices.

Consider using a backup application like OWC’s Copy That to make a backup of all the images on your iPhone or iPad to an SD card.

Fortunately, adding a reader is easy and relatively cheap.

How to read SD/microSD memory cards with your iPhone

Step 1 involves buying an SD and microSD card reader with a Lightning connector. Sorry, there’s no avoiding making a purchase — the best software in the world won‘t let an iPhone read a memory card without new hardware.

But there are cheap options. The one I tested is available on Amazon for $11.99. It’s made by Belcompany and includes both a full-size SD card slot and miniSD card one. There’s also a Lightning port so the iPhone can charge while using the adapter.

Belcompany iPhone SD/microSD card reader is available on Amazon
This Lightning to SD/microSD card reader for iPhone is quite affordable.
Photo: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

Data transfers from card to iPhone aren’t tremendously quick but not onerous. Copying a 1GB test file from a microSD card in the Belcompany reader to an iPhone 13 took 37 seconds. But the other direction is much slower. Moving that same 1 GB file from iPhone to the external memory card took almost 5 minutes.

This Lightning-enabled card reader is just one example. Look around on Amazon or AliExpress for “iphone sd card reader” and you’ll see a plethora of options.

And there’s a slightly alternative hardware option. The Cult of Mac guide on how to use a flash drive with iPhone or iPad makes use of a USB-A adapter from Apple. This same adapter can be used with SD/microSD memory card readers designed to plug into a USB-A port.

No extra software needed

Absolutely no additional software is required to use the current crop of iPhone SD card readers. The iOS Files application is all you need.

Insert the memory card into the reader, plug in the reader into the Lightning port on your iPhone, open the Files app and the SD card will show up. That’s genuinely all it takes.

The SD card will show up in Files like any other drive. From there you can access everything stored on it. Or move files around, play videos, whatever you need.

Plug in an SD or microSD card and it’ll appear in the Files app
SD or microSD cards show up in Apple’s Files application like any other drive.
Photo: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

Just be aware that some Lightning-enabled SCD/microSD card readers are designed to use their own applications, not Files. When shopping for a reader, watch out.