iPhones cannot do everything a laptop computer can do, but with a few extra apps it’s possible to do more with ZIP (compressed) files than some people realize. In this post I’ll explain how to use the Puffin web browser (free), Dropbox app (free), and Goodreader for iPhone ($5), to download a ZIP file from a website, uncompress it and listen to individual audio files contained in it.

Today I replied to a tweet by someone who had been unsuccessful downloading a free ZIP file of music files from a local band’s website on her mobile phone. I suggested using the app Goodreader for iPhone ($5). The steps to do this are a bit tricky, so this probably isn’t something a majority of iPhone users are going to want to do. If you have access to one, it’s easier to do these steps on a laptop or desktop computer. If you don’t have access to a full-blown computer for some reason, however, it can be handy to add these apps and techniques to your personal iOS toolkit. The apps I describe in this post are also available for iPad.

The Charlie Hall Band (from Oklahoma City) is giving away a free “Christmas Bundle Pack” of songs on their website. To download the digital songs as a zip file, however, you must enter your email address into a web form on their homepage. On a laptop or desktop computer, this triggers an automatic download of an approximately 13 MB ZIP file containing the free songs.

On an iPhone, using either the Safari or Chrome web browsers, however, the zip file on this page won’t download. That’s because Safari and Chrome are programmed not to download ZIP files on iOS. The Goodreader app has a web browser feature, but for some reason it won’t work on this site either to download the ZIP file. The browser which DOES work, and is free, is Puffin. When you enter your email address on the website and submit the form, a menu is displayed in Puffin asking if you want to save the downloaded ZIP file to your device (phone) or to DropBox. I chose DropBox, since this will let me access the files later from another computer (like my laptop) if I want.

After you login to your Dropbox account and grant the Puffin browser permission to use your account, Puffin will create a new folder in an “Apps” folder of your Dropbox account. Open the DropBox app on your iPhone, navigate into that folder, and tap on the ZIP file you saved with Puffin to your account to download it locally.

Dropbox won’t be able to read or open the ZIP file, so after it downloads click the SHARE/EXPORT button in the lower left corner of the screen. This icon in iOS7 looks like a box with an arrow pointing up from inside it.

Next, choose OPEN IN so you can open the ZIP file in another app. It’s great that more apps in iOS7 are permitting this option, which supports “app workflows” like this. Some people also call this “app smashing.” While the iPhone’s camera roll is used for some versions of “app smashing” as the virtual transfer space for files between apps, it’s increasingly possible to directly open files on the iPhone in different apps. There are limits, but there are more possibilities for this than we had with earlier versions of iOS.

Next, choose the app you want to open the ZIP file in. This is where you want to select Goodreader.

Tap on the downloaded ZIP file in Goodreader and tap the ACTIONS button in the upper right corner.

A variety of different commands will now be shown at the bottom of the Goodreader screen. Choose UNZIP.

A new folder will now show up in Goodreader, which is the uncompressed version of your downloaded file. In this example the new folder is “Christmas Bundle.”

Tap DONE in the upper right corner and then double tap your newly uncompressed folder to open it and navigate into the child folder (if present) containing the audio files you want to listen to. In this case the audio files are in M4A format, which is a compressed audio format similar to MP3.

Tap directly on any of the M4A audio files to play them directly on your iPhone within the Goodreader app.

It would be great if it was possible now to directly open the audio files in the iPhone’s Music app, but because of DRM (digital rights management) limits and concerns, Apple currently won’t let us do that. If you choose an individual audio file in Goodreader and tap ACTIONS, you can choose OPEN IN.

You will see a list of installed iPhone apps which are capable of playing the type of audio file you’ve selected, but you will NOT see the Music app included. This is a limit which Apple has imposed, and I don’t know of a way (without jailbreaking) to circumvent this.

That’s it for the steps. Again, this isn’t something that all iPhone users are going to want to do, but it’s handy if you’re away from a laptop or desktop computer or just want an “iPhone only” workflow to download and listen to zipped audio files.

Do you use other apps on an iPhone or iPad to similarly unzip files containing audio files and listen to them? If there are other ways to do this I’d love to learn about them!

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