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How to use an iOS device as a flash drive

A free desktop application, iPhone Explorer, lets you use your iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch as a flash drive for easy file transfers.

Yesterday, I wrote about how to use iPhone Explorer to change app icons on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch. This free app is also helpful for transferring files to and from your iOS devices, and it works with both PCs and Macs.

iPhone Explorer is much leaner than iTunes, making file transfers quick and painless. You will, however, need iTunes 8 or later. And you can't access the files on the iOS device itself. But should you want to carry some files with you to share with a friend or simply to back up to a computer, you don't need to hunt around for that thumbdrive. Just grab your iPhone and go.

How it works
Download iPhone Explorer and connect your device. Start the app and you'll see your iOS device listed. Click to expand the file directory. Here, you'll see two folders: Apps and Media. You can't create a new folder in the Apps folder, which contains the third-party apps on your iOS device, but you can create a folder in the Media folder by clicking on the New Folder button at the top of the iPhone Explorer window.

iPhone Explorer divides the contents of an iOS device between apps and media. Matt Elliott/CNET

For this tutorial, I created a folder called "pictures" and tried to drag in a group of screenshots that I had on my desktop. Turns out, you can't drag more than one file into the folder at a time. You can, however, create a folder on your PC or Mac and then drag it into iPhone Explorer--a handy workaround for transferring multiple files. Also handy is the preview feature in iPhone Explorer, which lets you peek at photos stored on your iOS device. The preview function can get in the way; there's a button in the lower-right corner to turn it off.

Using the Media folder, you can drag files to and from an iOS device. Matt Elliott/CNET

After you have moved files to your iOS device, take it to another computer to transfer or view the files. The system will need both iTunes 8 or later and the iPhone Explorer app. It's an easy way to share or back up photos, videos, music, and other files.

The Windows version of the iPhone Explorer app has a slightly different look than the Mac client, but the functionality remains the same. Matt Elliott/CNET