Can You Use an iPhone In Disk Mode?

iPhone disk mode
Is there an iPhone disk mode?. iPhone image copyright Apple Inc.

The iPhone is many things: a phone, a media player, a game machine, an Internet device. With its large amounts of storage, it's also like a portable hard disk or USB stick. When you think about the iPhone as a storage device, it's reasonable to wonder whether you could use the iPhone in disk mode—a way of using the iPhone like a portable hard drive to store and transfer any kind of file.

Disk mode was a feature of the original iPod line, so it stands to reason that a more advanced device like the iPhone should support that feature, too, right?

The short answer is no, the iPhone does not support disk mode

The full answer, of course, requires some additional context.

Understanding Disk Mode

As mentioned above, disk mode first showed up on iPods in the days before the iPhone and before you could get a 32GB USB stick cheaply. At that time, it made a lot of sense to allow users to store non-music files in the free storage space on their iPods and was a nice bonus for power users. 

In order to use the iPod in disk mode, two things were required: the user enabling disk mode through iTunes and the iPod's operating system supporting the ability to access the iPod's file system.

In order to move non-music files on and off the iPod manually, users just browsed the contents of their iPod. Think about your desktop or laptop computer: when you click through the folders on your desktop or hard drive, you're browsing a set of folders and files. This is what's called the computer's file system.

When an iPod was put into disk mode, the user could access that set of folders and files on the iPod just by double clicking the iPod icon on their desktop and adding or removing items. 

The iPhone's Hidden File System

The iPhone, on the other hand, doesn't have an icon that appears on desktops and can't be opened by a simple double click.

That's because the iPhone's file system is hidden from the user.

Like any computer, the iPhone has a file system—without one, the iOS couldn't work and you wouldn't be able to store music, apps, books, etc. on the phone—but Apple has designed the iOS to hide those files and folders from the user. This is done both to ensure the simplicity of using the iPhone (the more access you have to files and folders, the more trouble you can accidentally get into) and to make sure iTunes and iCloud are the only way to add content to an iPhone (or iPod touch or iPad). 

Adding Files to the iPhone

Even though there's no iPhone disk mode, you can still store files on your phone. You just have to sync them to a compatible app via iTunes. To do this, you'll need an app that can use the kind of file you want to sync—an app that can display PDFs or Word documents, an app that can play movies or MP3s, etc.

For files you want to use with the apps that come pre-loaded on your iPhone like Music or Movies, simply add those files to your iTunes library and sync your phone

For other kinds of files, get the right app to use them and then:

  1. Sync your iPhone to your computer. 
  2. Click on the Apps tab at the top of iTunes.
  1. Towards the bottom of that screen is a section labeled File Sharing. There, you can select an app that you want to add files to and click Add to browse your hard drive to find the file(s) you want.
  2. When you've added all the files, sync again and those files will be waiting for you in the apps you synced them to.   

Sharing Files from iPhone
One of the best features of disk mode was that it made it easy to get those files off your iPod and onto another computer. When you sync files to your iPhone, sharing the files isn't as simple as dragging and dropping them, but you can share them via email or AirDrop, among other ways.

Third-Party Software

If you're really committed to using the iPhone in disk mode, you're not completely out of luck. There are third-party programs for Mac and Windows, and a few iPhone apps, that can help. I haven't used these apps, so I can't say which ones are good and which aren't, but here are some options:

Apps (links open iTunes Store)

These apps don't give you access to the iPhone file -system, but do allow for storing files.

Desktop Programs

These programs provide a true disk mode feature, giving you access to the file system.