The Other Jailbreak

No matter which iPhone or iPad you have—an iPhone 5 with 8GB or a new iPhone 6 with 128 GB of memory, you will eventually get squeezed. 128 gigabytes seems like so much space, but limits are limits. Let’s say you put some photos, music and a few games on your new, high capacity iPhone 6. Those installations, along with the OS, leave you with 120 GB. If you want to watch some movies, and you buy them from iTunes at about 1.5 GB each, you can store eighty full-length videos. That may seem okay, until you get to 78. I have 700 movies that I can watch on my iPhone 4s and a total of 1,300 videos (music videos, YouTube downloads, and full-length movies) that I can watch on my 1st Generation iPad, without streaming anything. The nice thing is that I can add about 800 more videos without buying any more hardware.

Much of that storage space results from media compression, as discussed in my previous blog: the software solution to the iDevice storage problem. What gives me unlimited storage space is the hardware solution, today’s topic.

Some of you may say, brow creased: But the memory in iDevices can’t be expanded. Others of you know where I’m going with this: iFlashDrive and the iPhone Camera Connection Kit. Those of you familiar with the hardware are absolutely right; however, this is more a troubleshooting piece than an informational piece. Many of you, especially in the jailbreak community, know that the hardware supposedly allows you to connect external USB flash drives, external hard drives and SD memory chips, among other things, to the iDevice. Media (music, photos, videos, PDF ebooks) can then be opened normally from the external drive without transferring anything to the iDevice and using up space. It is experimental. There are complications. I have seen complaints, grumbling and cussing in comments and blogs because of the mis-steps and problems, but the external drive connection can be made to work well, under the right conditions. For those of you still in the dark, let’s start with a quick overview of the hardware.

The iFlashdrive is the more flexible in terms of compatibility. There are several iFlashdrive models. Some have their own built-in memory of 8, 16, and 32 GB. These only offer a bit of relief, or, more relevant, new versions of the same problem. There are also other makes of the device. Try one, and let me know how it works. The type you want—iFlashdrive or some other make—is one that accepts an external SD or USB flash drive. The only limitation is the generally accepted 32GB maximum. One source claims that the iFlashdrive can read SD cards of up to 128 GB. I have not yet attempted that.

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The iFlashdrive works with both iPhones and iPads and does not require a jailbreak. The only drawback (along with the CCK), probably no surprise, is that its functionality is dubious above iOS 8.1.1. Apple may or may not have intentionally blocked the use of the iFlashdrive with an OS update because of what may or may not have been seen as a potential threat to iTunes revenue. “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you,” so forth. I have heard rumors of an upgrade to the iFlashdrive, so there is hope. To work, the iFlashdrive requires the installation of a free app by the same name from the App Store. With that done, insert the SD card into the little drive; stick the drive into the charging port of your iDevice, and open the app, in that order. The rest is easy. You will see an “external drive” button. There is even access to Dropbox. When you are done watching your movie or whatever, simply close the app and pull the iFlashdrive.

Wi-Fi links have had good reviews, but the system obviously requires a wi-fi or internet connection, often with a server, which is difficult when you want to watch movies on the iPad while traveling. A device to consider would be one of the iUSB Ports by Hypershop, although they are all prohibitively expensive, at least on my budget.

The Camera Kit is more versatile in terms of devices, capacity accepted, cost and accessibility, but it only works (for our purposes) on jailbroken iPads with iFile installed. That should not be a problem if you are still reading this. There are different makes of the iPhone Camera Connection Kit, or, if you prefer: knockoffs. The original from the Official Apple Online Store costs $29.00 USD. It comes with a USB port and SD card reader, and it probably works best. Most of us will probably try one of the cheaper versions. Mine is a Chinese model that costs $60.00 MxN Mexican pesos, which, at today´s exchange rate is about $4.50 USD. It works fine. The problems encountered seem common to both versions and result from the fact that the camera connection kit is designed to transfer photos or videos to and from the iDevice and not to read directly from the external storage media, especially not full-length movies, although it does okay with photos. Apple blocked it from what we are attempting at iOS 8.1.1, so it only works on lower systems. It is also probably not intended to read from 500 GB or larger external drives, which is the only thing I use it for—and successfully—on my iPad.

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Finally, for those of you with Android phones and tablets, there is the OTG (On The Go) cable. With this small, inexpensive device, you can attach a USB flash memory without having to open the phone to change the removable microchip.

I bought one here in Mexico for about $2.00 USD. It has a similar operating system limitation to the iOS devices, probably for the same reasons. I tried the OTG cable on several Android phones of different makes. It worked on every phone running system 4.2.1 or lower, and on none of the phones running higher than 4.2.1. It works similarly to the iFlashdrive. You need to install one of several free file manager apps from Google Play; then it will open your photos, music or videos directly from the external drive. Also, like the iFlashdrive, the OTG does not have the connection problems of the CCK, nor does it seem to offer the advantage of accessing large capacity disks of 128 GB or more (although I am still experimenting with that).

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The Camera Connection Kit option seems to be the best way to carry a large media collection along on a single drive while traveling or to have the media available for different iPads. However, there are the connection problems. To resolve the problems (except for the iOS block limit), I will take you on my own journey of discovery (I hope that´s not a cliché yet) to get the thing to work properly. Hobbyists will likely enjoy the trip. Whiners will not. Technicians will, I hope, offer some productive advice in the comments.

The final process of connecting an external drive to an iPad successfully turned out to be fairly clear and not too difficult, but you will need to have some jailbreak experience and a certain comfort level with iFile and setting up computer links.

When my 32 GB iPad 1st Generation filled up—for me, that’s the twenty percent free disk space mark—I began, for fun, to look for solutions beyond iFlashdrive. Several YouTube videos presented possibilities.

I first learned that the external disk had to be formatted in Fat32 to work. I suspect that Mac OS Extended format may also work, since it is the traditional Apple format, but I haven’t tried it yet. Also for the iPad, which has to be jailbroken for the CCK to work, at least two programs are necessary: iFile from Cydia and RockPlayer2 from the Apple App Store. Neither is free; both are worth it. A third app, Popup Blocker from Cydia is also highly recommended.

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The instructional videos only mentioned iFile, so, ignorant of the other two at that point, I just installed iFile at first. The powered hub worked okay with my 16 GB USB flash drive, but my iPad did not recognize my 500 GB external, powered hard drive. I saw in the YouTube comments that the system worked for some people but not for others. A couple, like me, found that the iPad did not see the external drive at all. I assumed that a variable had been missed somewhere. To begin, I tried a different wall charger. iFile loaded the disk then, but I got the popup: The requested USB device requires too much power.

I looked closely at the chargers. The first listed the output at 1A (amps). The second listed 2.4A. Both had an output of 5 volts. Apparently, a lack of external power created at least part of the difficulty. The YouTube video instructions for a powered external hard drive were apparently not detailed enough. Volts or amps? I wondered, not well schooled in either.

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I burned up one USB powered hub and a 16 GB USB flash drive learning that the issue lay in increasing the amps and not the voltage (At least I had the sense to start with the cheap stuff). The voltage must stay at an output of 5v; however, the amps can go up significantly without causing any damage to the external disk or to the iDevice. You can essentially increase the amps to get more power (using the term loosely) without burning anything up. Kirsten Thomson makes the point:

“[An iPhone/iPad] will try and take as much current as it needs. So if a product requires 2.1Amps then the power supply should be able to supply 2.1Amps or more. If the power supply can supply more than 2.1Amps this doesn’t matter as the product will only take 2.1Amps. If the power supply can only supply 1 Amp in this case then either the product will fail to work/charge or charge slowly as it can’t get enough current (or power) . . . .”

All USB wall and car chargers that I have seen produce an output of 5v, but the amps currently range from 500mA to 5A. I am using a 3A charger with my iPhone, iPad and Android phone successfully.

Evidently, there is some risk with counterfeit chargers. However, after using my 5v wall chargers on several iDevices and Android phones and tablets, none of the chargers have burned up or damaged a device. A lack of amps is the issue in this case. Using less than 2.1A causes the iPad to charge slowly, as noted by Thomson, and prevents iFile from mounting the external drive. Of course, simply mounting a drive does not get a movie playing.

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I turned next to the external drive itself, specifically the Y-cable. On a whim, I compared it to the cable on my wife’s external DVD drive. The DVD player had a thicker cable. I borrowed the thicker Y-cable and plugged it into the charger, external drive and counterfeit CCK, which was plugged into my iPad. This time on reboot everything worked . . . almost. I could open photos and play music from the external drive, but the iPad rebooted itself after the first five minutes of any video. I shrugged and tried it with a USB extension cable. The “device requires too much power” popup returned, and nothing worked, although the drive did mount again in iFile. The extension cable was USB 2.0. The data transfer rate affects video streaming, obviously.

I was playing with two external drives, one an old iomega 230 GB drive, and one a fairly recent Adata 500 GB drive, and—including the DVD player cable that I borrowed from my wife—three USB cables.

Judging by copy transfer times, based on the excellent and very clear article (in Spanish) by Angel Luis Sanchez Iglesias, the age of the external drives and other research, I tentatively propose that the three cables in the photo are as marked: “a” USB 1.1, “b” USB 2.0 low bandwidth, and “c” USB 2.0 high bandwidth. The “c” cable is the DVD player cable that worked best with the iPad and iFile, at least mounting the disk and playing the first five minutes of video. Note the difference in thickness in the power cables. Labeling the cables is relevant from my point of view as a hobbyist—and I would appreciate any informed input on the topic—but, in practical terms, you just need to know that, like wall chargers, all USB cables are not equal. If one doesn´t work, try another.

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I bought a USB 3.0 extension cable to replace the USB 2.0. The USB 3.0 cables come in a pretty blue color now. Hell, anything helps.

Again, with the pretty, blue USB 3.0 extension, I had limited success as before (five minutes of video) with no way—that I could devise—to add more power without increasing voltage, a dangerous prospect. Everything worked fine, but full-length videos still cut off after 5-8 minutes, and the iPad rebooted itself. An extra three minutes was not impressive. Of course, I could have assumed that the CCK was the problem, but that line of thinking led to the proverbial brick wall. I skipped the CCK and looked to the iPad and iFile.

The use of symbolic links (SymLinks) finally solved the problem. In iFile, before the symlinks, the “Open with Video Player” did access the external hard drive, as mentioned, and it streamed media to the iPad for viewing, sort of. The 5-8 minutes streamed was sufficient if you only want to listen to music, read pdf ebooks, watch music videos and short YouTube or porn clips. In addition to all of that, I wanted to watch full-length movies. I had heard that several third-party apps worked much better than the stock iOS video player, but none that I tried could access external drives directly to my satisfaction.

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MacRumors has an excellent tutorial on setting up symlinks in iFile to access external drives. The article mentions a few media players that did, with the symlinks set up, access my 500 GB external drive; however, the video streaming in most of them only reached ten minutes, still not enough. One example was RushPlayer+ (Cydia). You can set up symlinks to the “My Documents” folder with iFile, and then RushPlayer+ can access them. You can even set up a link to “My Documents” in Shortcuts/Places on the iFile home page. Music videos played fine; however, long movies still cut off at ten minutes.

The 1st Generation iPad is a bit short on memory, but it had never been a problem while watching movies. I monitored the available memory level anyway during the course of the videos and compared it to the available memory during games, playing music files, looking for stuff on Cydia and reading ebooks. Memory was not a problem at the cut-off point of the long videos. With no other ideas, I tried other media players.

Finally, RockPlayer2 accessed and played complete full-length movies flawlessly with the symlink to the movie placed in the RockPlayer2 “Inbox,” inside of the “Documents” folder (iFile/Shortcuts/Applications/RockPlayer2/Documents/Inbox). The only remaining nuisance occurred with the damned popups. I found that the solution could be resolved with the use of either of the tweaks Popup Blocker or NoAnnoyance, both available through Cydia. I chose Popup Blocker which works well.

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Popups gone, movies playing all the way through—I was satisfied with the results. To confirm my findings, I checked the variables by keeping the symlinks but swapping out the charger and cables for the previous ones. The mounting, “not enough power” and reading problems returned. Everything worked correctly again with the 3A charger, USB 3.0 extensions, thicker Y-Cable and symlinks set up as before.

In summary, to get a large, external USB drive connected to an iPad (500 GB Adata hard drive, 1st Generation iPad, iOS 5.1.1 in this example) and working properly, try the following. You should see good results with any jailbroken iPad running lower than iOS 8.1.2. You may even get better results with updated versions of some of the media players if you have a newer iPad.

Hardware needed: a jailbroken iPad with an iOS of lower than 8.1.2 installed; an external hard drive formatted with Fat32; a USB 2.0 or better high-speed Y-cable to power the drive; a wall, car or battery charger with an output of maximum 5.3v and mimimum 2.1A; a Camera Connection Kit (Apple or otherwise) with the correct connector, 30-pin or lightning; optional USB 3.0 extension cables.

Software needed: iFile (Cydia), RockPlayer2 (App Store), Popup Blocker (Cydia).

The Steps: Although the developers of RockPlayer2 say that it can open anything, I find it beneficial to convert all video and audio files to Apple standard formats (mp3, mp4) and then compress them to a smaller size. I also use a conversion program to burn subtitles directly into the videos, so there are no .srt files floating around to annoy the media player. Let’s make things as easy as possible for the iDevice.

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That done, connect everything, attaching the USB 3.0 extension cables—or not—to your preference. On the Y-cable, the shorter USB end off to the side goes into the charger, and the other USB end goes into the CCK. If you have a 5in1 knockoff CCK, be sure to move the tiny, black switch on the side by the USB entry to “USB.” You should now see lights on the hard drive and the CCK. Boot or reboot the iPad. During the boot process, the lights on the hard drive and CCK may go out. That is normal. When you get to the lock screen, the lights will (should) come back on.

Open iFile. In a few seconds, the external drive should mount. It will show up on the top, left side in “Devices” just under “Disk,” which is your iPad. The light on the external hard drive should then start blinking, which indicates that the drive is loading. When the light goes solid again, tap your external drive icon in iFile, and it should open into the big window. If you want to read a pdf ebook or listen to a song, you’re ready. Just tap it and choose your player or reader. For audio files, RockPlayer2 will be one of those listed, and it will just open the file without the bother of setting up a symlink.

If you want a movie, follow the MacRumors process to set up the symlink, click the home button to get to the springboard, and open RockPlayer2. You should see the link to the movie on the top row within a few seconds. Tap it and watch Rocky III for the fifth time or whatever. The whole setup, from plugging the charger into the wall to tapping your movie icon, takes maybe two or three minutes.

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When the movie is done, for the sake of safety, I close the movie, leave the link intact for next time, close RockPlayer2, close iFile and reboot or tap my “close all apps” tweak. After Yof´s excellent, albeit complicated, article in iPadForums.net mentioned the danger of erased files from an improperly unmounted disk, I want to make sure that the drive is unmounted before I shut down the iPad. Call me paranoid. Yet, with a case of 32 GB SD disks and a iFlashdrive in my pocket, and my CCK and 500 GB external drive in my bag, you can also call me happy for having close to 1 TB of media available to view on my 32 GB iPad, more than enough for a week’s vacation.