iOS 18 lets you format external drives on iPhone and iPad

The first developer betas for iOS 18 and iPadOS 18 have revealed a new feature that significantly enhances the utility of iPhones and iPads: native external drive formatting within the Files app. This functionality allows users to format external drives directly from their mobile devices, a capability that has traditionally been limited to Mac computers.

iOS 18 logo

Apple’s latest software updates introduce support for three major drive formats: APFS (Apple File System), ExFAT, and MS-DOS (FAT). Within the APFS option, users can also choose between case-sensitive and encrypted formats, offering robust security and customization. These options are available when users connect an external drive and select the “Erase” function by long-pressing on the drive volume within the Files app.

This addition marks a significant shift from Apple’s original design philosophy for iPhones and iPads. Historically, these devices did not support file system access, much less drive formatting, which was seen as an unnecessary complexity for mobile users. The inclusion of a Files app and now the ability to format external drives indicates a clear pivot towards catering to power users who demand more desktop-like functionality from their mobile devices.

The drive formatting feature was first discovered by artist and developer Kaleb Cadle, who documented his findings on his Substack, ByteBits. Cadle noted the striking similarity between the new formatting options in the Files app and those available in the Mac’s Disk Utility, with some features like Restore and First Aid still exclusive to Mac. His discovery highlights how Apple is incrementally porting over more sophisticated desktop features to its mobile operating systems.

 ios 18 files formatting

The ability to format drives directly from an iPhone or iPad is particularly beneficial for users who need to manage data on the go. This feature is expected to be a significant boon for professionals who rely on iPads for their work, such as photographers and videographers, who often need to format drives quickly and efficiently.

Furthermore, this new functionality eliminates the need for a Mac to perform basic disk management tasks, streamlining workflows and enhancing the overall utility of iPads and iPhones. The move aligns with other recent enhancements, like the introduction of Final Cut Pro for iPad and the Final Cut Camera app, which allow for professional-grade video editing and recording directly on mobile devices.

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About the Author

Asma is an editor at iThinkDifferent with a strong focus on social media, Apple news, streaming services, guides, mobile gaming, app reviews, and more. When not blogging, Asma loves to play with her cat, draw, and binge on Netflix shows.