How to Break Into Your iPhone Apps

Every app on your iPhone syncs with iTunes, which means it also resides on your Mac. Unlike the iPhone, our wonderful Macs are fairly open and make it easy to dig around in important files. Put these two statements together and you get the realization that you can use your Mac to tear apart your iPhone apps to see what’s inside (no jail-breaking required).

Today I’ll walk you through the basic process of breaking into an iPhone app in addition to discussing why on Earth you would want to do such a thing.

What and Why

First of all, don’t read this as an article teaching you how to actually use iOS apps on your Mac. If there is a way to do that beyond just the developer simulation tools, I’m unaware of it! Instead, this guide will show you how to dig into the contents of an iPhone app to get at the resources that comprise it.

Believe it or not, the reasoning behind this exercise is fairly practical. Say you have an app containing video tutorials that for whatever reason you’d like to watch on your Mac. Perhaps they’re eating up too much room on your iPhone or you simply want to watch them on a bigger screen. Or maybe there’s a game with a soundtrack that you really like and you want to see if you can throw it into iTunes. All of this is potentially possible with the process below.

Here’s How

To start off, make sure you have an iOS device (iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad) synced with iTunes. This will take all the apps you’ve downloaded on the device and stick them in a folder on your Mac for backup purposes. Chances are, if you own an iOS device, you’ve already got a bunch of apps on your hard drive to start from so you can proceed to step one below.

Step 1: Find Your Apps in iTunes

When you open up iTunes, you should see a column on the left with various categories: Library, Store, Shared, Genius, Playlists, etc. Under the “Library” heading, click on the “Apps” item shown below.

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Select Apps in the sidebar

This will bring up an icon view of all the apps on your device. You’re probably already familiar with this screen but if not, this is where you can go to see if there are any updates for the apps you’ve downloaded. Whether or not you still have them installed on your iOS device, you can still keep them up to date in your iTunes library.

Step 2: Select an App to Break Into

Once inside the apps section of iTunes, simply select an app whose contents you’d like to poke around in. Make sure the app is one that actually contains some interesting content. For instance, I’m going to take a look at Guitar World Lick of the Day because I know that it contains some awesome video tutorials for guitarists and I’d like to see if I can download these to my Mac.

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Right-click and select Show in Finder

Once you’ve decided on a good app, right click on it and select “Show in Finder.” Obviously, this brings up a Finder window with the app selected.

You can also simply navigate to the Mobile Applications folder inside of your iTunes folder and skip iTunes entirely.

Step 3: Copy The App

Step three is easy, just copy the app somewhere (I threw it on my desktop). Make sure you never go messing with the original app, even if you know what you’re doing. It’s much safer to work with a duplicate so you can be 100% sure that if you screw something up, in won’t matter in the least.

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Copy the app to your desktop

Step 4: Change the Extension

To actually get into the app, you’ll need to change the file extension from .ipa to .zip. This will allow you to double click the .zip file and turn it into a plain old folder.

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Chang the file's extension

Step 5: Show Package Contents

Once you expand the .zip into a folder, find the app icon inside. Since it won’t run on a Mac, it should be a circle with a line through it. Right-click on this icon and select “Show Package Contents.”

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Show Package Contents

That’s it! This step should open up the secret folder containing all the goodies you’re not supposed to see.

Poking Around

Once you’re inside the app you’ll find all kinds of great stuff. For instance, in Lick of the Day I found the video files I was looking for, some fonts, the interface graphic files, sound files and more!

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Show Package Contents

Conclusion

To sum up, all you really have to do to break into an iPhone app is copy the file to your desktop, change the extension to .zip, find the actual app file within that folder and tell your Mac to “Show Package Contents.”

If you tried this on your own apps, leave a comment below. Which apps did you break into and what cool resources did you find?