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6 ways to transfer files from your Mac to your iOS device

Kirk McElhearn | April 8, 2016
Use one of these methods to transfer a file from your Mac to your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch.

Dropbox or other cloud services

If you have the Dropbox app on your iOS device (or apps for other cloud services, such as Google Drive, Box, etc.) you can add files to your cloud and then access them on your iOS device. As with email, you’re limited as to which types of files you can open. If there are specific files you need to access on your iOS device, you may need to find apps that can read them. For example, if you need to read Excel spreadsheets, you’ll need either Microsoft Excel for iOS, Apple’s Numbers, or another app that can view (and perhaps edit) these files.

iCloud Drive

icloud drive
Viewing files in the iCloud Drive app on an iPhone.

iCloud Drive is a bit different from the other cloud services. It stores files that you’ve opened with specific apps in dedicated folders. You can add a file to iCloud Drive and create your own folders, or just copy files to the top level of iCloud Drive. To do this on your Mac, choose Go > iCloud Drive in the Finder, then add the files to the location you desire. If you’re adding a file that you can open in a specific app that already has a named folder, you can add it directly to that folder. On iOS, either open the app that can view the file, or open the iCloud Drive app, tap the file, and then tap the Share button to see your options for opening the file.

iTunes File Sharing

Some iOS apps can use iTunes File Sharing, a way of adding and managing files in iTunes so these apps can access them. To use iTunes File Sharing, connect your iOS device to your Mac, select it in iTunes, and then click Apps in the sidebar. Scroll down to the File Sharing section.

itunes file sharing
With iTunes File Sharing, you can sync files to your iOS device to use with specific apps.

In the above example, I’ve added a PDF file to GoodNotes. When I click Sync at the bottom of the window, iTunes will copy that file (as well as copy any other items selected to sync, such as music, apps, etc.). You can also delete files by selecting them in the File Sharing dialog and pressing the Delete key.

With some apps, you have to click + or Import, and choose to import the file(s) from iTunes. This is the case even if the files have been copied to your iOS device. Other apps may show the files immediately.


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