External hard drive, Time Machine, iPad Air 3

I recently bought a brand new iPad Air 3 and love it!

With the benefit of OS 13, and this wonderful group, I’ve been able to access info on my older thumb drives.

I’ve found my external hard drives and bought a hub in order to access the info on them. There should be Time Machine back-ups from approximately 9 years ago, probably less because I did have digital cameras not all that long ago.

My last laptop was deliberately infected by someone with a virus and couldn’t be repaired at the time. It was just awful!

I’m pretty compulsive, once I got the external hard drives, so I am reasonably certain about the TimeMachine backups. There might be other external hard drives besides the two I’ve located but I doubt it.

(I may have just copied the iPhotos. Would that have been difficult? I don’t recall.)

I do not know ANYONE with a Mac computer!

Can I get into Time Machine without the actual program? Is there any sort of work around or an app that might help? It’s been a while and I really don’t care much about anything but the photos. Any info you could give me would be greatly appreciated.

(AppleCare had told me that the only iPad, with os 13, that could get into a flash drive was the IPad Pro. I’m so glad I didn’t stop there and appealed to this group!)


I have not been using Time Machine for quite some time, so I cannot check how a hard drive with a Time Machine backup shows up on an iPad.

But there is an article out there that describes how a Time Machine backup can be accessed from a Windows PC:

If the iPad is able to “see” the hard disk, it might be able to deliver similar results, but I do not have any idea if that works.

A different solution would be to try to access the data from a PC, to extract your files from the Time Machine Backup, to put it on a drive that can be accessed from your iPad and to transfer the data afterwards.

By far the easiest way would be to somehow get access to Mac and to use the Mac to access the Time Machine backup.

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Thank you, Christian!

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I guess that depends, if you encrypted your TimeMachine drive, then you can’t get to the files. If you didn’t encrypt your backup, you can access it with an iPad, because it can access a HFS formatted drive.

If you didn’t encrypt your drive, then you can open the Backups.backupdb folder and go from there. But be very careful, because if you unplug the disk while the iPad is still busy with it you ruin the drive and your only backup. I don’t understand why there isn’t a way to unmount a disk or drive in iOS 13 now you have full access to drives.

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Thanks a million, Frank! No, I certainly didn’t encrypt it. How much time do you think I should wait for the iPad to stop using the files approximately?

Will it make noise or something?

And there are likely TimeMachine back-ups from a number of different dates. I have two external hard drives.

As long as the drive indicates data transfer (noise, flashing LEDs), the drive should not be disconnected.

I found this blog post dealing with your question. The author is talking about USB flash drives, but his suggestions sound reasonable for harddrives, too:

An excerpt:

  • No data transfers should be ongoing. If you are copying files from or to the iPad, you should most definitely not disconnect the device as it may corrupt the drive and cause data loss.
  • Manually close the Files app. By doing so, you are more sure that any interaction between your iPad and the external drive is discountinued.
  • If you are using a thumb drive that has a LED indicator, it may be a good idea to check if the LED is blinking. If it is indeed blinking, this may indicate it is busy: it is being consulted or files are being written to it.
  • Last option – and the most secure – is to fully turn of your iPad before ejecting the external drive. This way, you are completely sure the hard drive plugged in is fully disconnected.

Credit: https://thomas.vanhoutte.be/miniblog/safely-eject-hard-drive-ipad/

If you have the chance to do so, it might be a good idea to make a backup of your Time Machine drive and to access the copy with the iPad. Just to be safe!

Then again, you will need a Mac or a PC for that. And of course, if you had a Mac available for this, this would be also the best option to read from the Time Machine backup…


I have to question, " Manually close the Files app. By doing so, you are more sure that any interaction between your iPad and the external drive is discountinued." If that kills the file transfer immediately then you’re at a similar risk of having a partially transferred or corrupted file and it if continues the transfer until it’s over before the app actually dies, then I don’t think you’ve gained anything because you still don’t know exactly when it’s safe to remove the drive.

I truly don’t understand why there isn’t an unmount/eject option for drives in iPadOS.


Same here.

Regarding the Files app: there is one way to be at least a little bit sure that a transfer is successful: put two Files windows next two each other and then drag and drop the requested file from one window to the next. Then you should be able to see when the files has reached its destination. Give it some time and if the Files app is being closed then, you should be fine.

Then again, if you have a lot of data sitting in a Time Machine backup, it is a very fiddly procedure to access it via the iPad and to transfer data. Those backups can be corrupted easily. And if the backup is the only place where the data is being stored right now, it is not very reassuring to transfer data this way. A Mac - and even a PC for that matter - would be of great help in this case.


My ipad can sit overnight or whatever, if I’m at home.

I do have access to a PC, likely an old one. It’s in an office in the building where I live. My time in there would be very limited. It is also a high traffic area and I wouldn’t necessarily trust the people who come by to even be careful.

I could go to the library. Maybe I can call and see if they have a Mac around there somewhere.

Maybe my brother has a laptop… at work. He works for the government and they do not like to invest in the technology. My nephew says they don’t have any. He’s a sharp kid!

(An aside… Get this: when I was teaching several years ago, I was pulling perfectly fine Macs on their way to destruction. The Asst. Principal helped me smuggle a couple out of the basement. The District was “upgrading” to PC’s! I put them in my classroom– loved and appreciated!)

***Could I purchase another external hard drive and duplicate the contents?

There are two external hard drives. One is fairly large, the other small. The little one must be the newer one. LOL! I could test the waters on the larger one. The main reason I bought them, I believe, was to back up, certainly most likely TimeMachine.

Using your iPad? No. I am not 100% sure, but I do not think so. They way to duplicate an external drive properly would be making a clone using something like Carbon Copy Cloner or SuperDuper on a Mac or similar tools on a PC.

I do not think that iPadOS is capable of an ongoing file transfer of a lot of files overnight. I do not know for sure, but there might be timeout issues or issues regarding background processes being terminated eventually.

Using the iPad a manual file by file transfer will or maybe folder by folder transfer might work, but I do not think that you will be available to achieve an automatic copy of a lot of data overnight. You can try, but it might fail and I am not sure, if you will get a reliable notice if the transfer has succeeded or failed.

So, I guess the thing is that an iPad only approach to restore from an external drive inside of a Time Machine backup could work, but the secure way would be to use a Mac or a PC and to copy the data from there onto the iPad. Sorry… :slight_smile:

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Christian, that was one idea I had. Thanks!

But, I mean, I can let the iPad and the hard drive sit undisturbed for a long time in order to make sure the files etc are no longer active ie that they have resolved doing what they do. So that way there wouldn’t be any chance of my unplugging the hard drive prematurely.

I could certainly do a file by file transfer. I just want to get the photos.

I was even thinking of buying an inexpensive laptop on Amazon. They look like they have some on Amazon from around 2015- MacBook Airs, I believe, for $400. That would be a last resort. But having a laptop might be nice!