How to transfer files from Windows to the iPad

Lincoln Spector

The iPad (and other iOS devices) might be the coolest computing device, but it lacks a clear and simple way to share files with Windows PCs.

Sure, iPads contain storage and connect to PCs via USB, but they don’t behave like flash drives or Android phones. Here are three tricks for moving files on and off an iPad.

Apple’s world of invisible file management

If you’re used to the way personal computers (even Macs) work, an iPad can throw you for a loop. There must be files and folders in there somewhere, but the pad’s operating system (iOS) does a good job of hiding them. Where’s the one-stop, Explorer-like app for moving, copying, and deleting iPad-based files? And just where is the simple — or even eccentric-but-insanely-great — tool for moving files between PC and iPad?

Sadly, basic file management is the most glaring casualty of the iPad’s new computing paradigm. Fortunately for PC users, there are easy ways to resurrect it.

These file-management issues exist with any iOS device, including iPhones and the iPod touch. But there are two reasons to focus on the iPad: First, because I own one; and second, because iPad owners are more likely to use the device as a computing platform — a system suitable for light-duty content creation, not just content viewing. Which means you need an easy way to move files to and from the device.

On a PC, files are associated (via the file extension) with the application that created them. iOS takes it a step further and ties every file (or at least every one you can see) directly to a specific app — and only that app. The file remains in that app’s storage area. When two iOS apps show the same file, such as a PDF, each app has its own, separate copy.

To my mind, that’s ridiculous. For PC users, it’s trivial to organize files by project rather than application. For instance, all the files connected with this article — the manuscript, my notes, screen captures, and so on — reside in the same folder on my Windows PC. I can’t do that on my iPad.

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All Windows Secrets articles posted on 2012-06-06:

Lincoln Spector

About Lincoln Spector

Lincoln Spector writes about computers, home theater, and film and maintains two blogs: Answer Line at and His articles have appeared in CNET, InfoWorld, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other publications.