How to Convert Video Files to Play on an iPhone or iPad (macOS)

This tutorial will show you step by step how to convert video files to watch on your iPhone or iPad – using completely free and open source software for your Mac.

Note: although this guide was published way back in 2007, it has been updated to be completely current in 2020. The software works perfectly on macOS versions up to and including “Big Sur”

  1. OK first up – download and install Handbrake. Handbrake is completely free (in fact it’s open source), has been around for ages and falls into the ‘best in class’ category for converting video. The installation is typical for macOS – just open the downloaded file and then drag to your Applications folder. Launch it from there.
  2. When Handbrake opens it instantly asks you to choose a source file – the one you want to convert so you can watch it on your iPhone/iPad. Navigate to the folder that contains your video file, select it, and click Open
  3. selecting a file in Finder

  4. The video will load and the main Handbrake screen will appear.
  5. the main Handbrake interface

  6. Now it’s time to choose the quality you want the converted file to have. Select the Preset: menu and then take a look at the sub-menus. You may need to experiment via trial and error to figure out which Preset is best for you – but a good place to start is Fast 1080p30 found in the General sub-menu. If the quality of the resulting video isn’t good enough for you, try again but using HQ 1080p30 Surround. If the size of the resulting video is too large (ie. will take up too much space on your iPhone or iPad) try lowering the quality to Fast 720p30
  7. the handbrake preset menu

  8. Make sure that the Format: is set to MP4 File
  9. the handbrake file format menu

  10. Give your soon-to-be-created video a name in the Save As: field, and select the folder where you want it to be saved.
  11. selecting a location to save a file

  12. Finally, click the Start button.
  13. an arrow pointing to the Handbrake Start button

  14. Your video will now be encoded (converted) to an MP4 file that can be played on your iPhone or iPad. The process can take quite some time, depending on the size of the video and speed of your Mac. You may want to grab yourself a cup of coffee or tea.
  15. convert video for your iphone

  16. Once Handbrake is done you’ll get a notification message.
  17. convert successful message for video to watch on your iPhone

  18. Open a Finder and navigate to the folder you saved your file in. Ta-da! Now you know how to convert video files to watch on iPhone or iPad. Transfer the .MP4 file to your device and give it a watch. If the quality meets your standards – you’re all done! Otherwise try re-encoding the original file again but this time with a higher or lower setting depending on your needs.
  19. a finder window with an arrow pointing to a converted video that can now be watched on an iPhone

ps. did you know you can also use Handbrake to copy DVDs so you can watch them on your Mac, iPhone or iPad? It’s true :)

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1 thought on “How to Convert Video Files to Play on an iPhone or iPad (macOS)”

  1. Great!! I have been searching for a long time for a good tutorial with free software. With this software i finally could convert my .mkv videos to .mp4.
    Thanks a lot!

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