Explore iPhone app bundles

This how-to for Mac users details the steps that can be used to find a wealth of hidden media files inside of iPhone and iPod Touch application bundles.

David Martin
David Martin has more than 20 years of experience in the industry as a programmer, systems and business analyst, author, and consultant.
David Martin
3 min read

This how-to for Mac users will help you get a little bit more out of the apps you've purchased for your iPhone or iPod Touch. We'll look at exploring what Apple calls "application bundles," showing you how to extract content from them for your personal use.

You could use the media in personal projects, school projects (such as essays), your personal blog where you review apps, or possibly to make ringtones for your iPhone. (Keep in mind, however, that media you find may or may not be copyrighted. Make sure to follow copyright laws for your country.)

Back it up!

First and most important: what we are about to do can have serious consequences to the files we explore. Therefore, we highly recommended that you always make a copy of the file you are exploring and work with the copy. We outline the steps on how to do that below. That way, if things go wrong you will still have the original. If you are not comfortable with these steps please consult your local guru for help.

Step 1: iTunes application sidebar

Open iTunes and go to the Applications section of the iTunes sidebar by clicking Applications. If you do not see Applications in the sidebar, go to iTunes preferences, General Tab, and make sure that Applications is checked. Find the app that you wish to explore and right click it and select Show in Finder.

Step 2: Locating the app in Finder

Select the application in the Finder and right-click (or hereafter Control-click with a one button mouse) to choose Copy (or Command-C). Now navigate to a new folder or your Desktop and then either right-click to choose Paste (or Command-V) to paste a copy of the app into the new folder or onto the Desktop.

Step 3: Rename the application bundle and expand it

Once the file is copied, you will rename the copied file replacing the ipa with zip. Finder may prompt you about a changing the file extension--be sure to select .zip if it does. Now open the renamed Zip file--that's what it actually is--with your favorite Unzip utility (i.e. StuffIt Expander) allow it to expand into its own folder.


Step 4: Exploring the application bundle

Look around inside the folder that was just created. Pay special attention and look for a folder called Payload. Inside of that folder you will see an app icon showing a circle with a slash across it.

Don't try to open it with a double-click. Instead you must right-click and use an option called Show Package Contents.

Step 5: Finding media content

Now all you have to do is browse. The Show Package Contents opens up the actual app as if it were a folder in Finder. You may even consider making a copy of it to look through in another location. I recommend using Leopard's Quick Look to help you find any existing media files within this folder.

Step 6: Clean up!

Once you've found all the media files that you want, you should consider throwing the duplicate app file(s) you made and all other files associated with your exploring into the Trash. Just be sure to not throw away the original app file.

Using these steps you are now free to explore and discover all kinds of media files inside of your favorite iPhone or iPod Touch app. You'll be able to find a plethora of files including audio files: .mp4, .mp3, etc., and image files: .jpg, .png, .tiff, etc. You may even discover some .mov files, which contain movies.