Archives: An Archive Files Knockout

I’m not the only iPad user who’s received a ZIP file full of photos over email or been directed to download a RAR file over the Internet. Unfortunately, there’s nothing I’m going to be able to do with that until I get back to my main computer, even if the final destination of those unarchived files is going to be my iPad.

Archives changes all that, and with compatibility with pretty much every archive type, I can finally get at all those files. How well can Archives really integrate with your iOS workflow? Let’s take a look!

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Unarchiving Archive Files

If you get an archive file sent to you by email, normally you might have to wait until you get home or back to the office to see what’s in there. My go-to apps for syncing files among my devices, Dropbox, Evernote and Droplr, are no help to me. Google Drive is at a loss. Sure, I could move the archive to any of those apps on my iPad, but once I got it there, it was still useless until I got back to my desktop. With Archives, though, just tap the file’s icon once to download it, then tap it again to choose where to open it. If you’ve got Archives installed, it should be among the choices.

If you ever forget how to open archive files, the tutorial is always there for you.

If you ever forget how to open archive files, the tutorial is always there for you.

It’s about the same process to get an file from a URL into Archives. Just tap the download link; the address bar will fill up, like a progress bar, so keep an eye up there if it seems to take a long time with a larger archive file. When the download is complete, you’ll have the choice of two buttons to tap: “Open in…” or “Open in [APP].” If your second choice is to open in Archives, go for it, but iOS is currently suggesting I try to open my RAR file in Evernote, which is never going to work. In that case, I’ll take the first option and select Archives from the list.

Your third option for getting an archive onto your iPad is to use iTunes File Sharing. If you haven’t been using iTunes File Sharing, and I know I don’t use it as much as I could be, it’s a super simple way to get documents and files into compatible apps on your iOS devices. You’ll need to connect your iPad to iTunes (via Wi-Fi or USB or telekinesis or whatever you’re doing). Select your device in iTunes, click the Apps tab, and scroll down to File Sharing. If you’ve got Archives installed, it’ll be in the list, and you can just drag any archive files into the documents pane. I didn’t even have to sync for them to show up in Archives on my iPad.

Let’s See What’s in There

Now that you’ve got all those lovely and previously impenetrable archive files into Archives, they’ll appear in a list down the left side of the screen. Select the one you’d like to work with, and the archives list will be replaced with a list of the selected archive’s contents. The right pane will display information like the total size of the archive and how compressed it is.

You can get some information on the archive or the individual files.

You can get some information on the archive or the individual files.

Tap a file within the archive, and Archives will display that file’s information. What you can do with the file depends on the filetype, but generally you’ll be able to open it in a compatible app or save the file if it’s an image. Use the up and down arrows to browse through the files.

Preview your file right in Archives, too.

Preview your file right in Archives, too.

The Preview tab will let you get a quick look at the file; you can read a document, listen to an audio file, or view an image. If you weren’t just moving files around among devices and are opening an archive file emailed to you by a friend or coworker or downloaded from the Internet, the Preview tab will likely spare you the trouble of saving a bunch of files you don’t actually want or need. Take a look first and only keep what’s of use to you.

The Downside

I really loved how easy it was to move files around from my Mac to my iPad or to download from the Internet. I’ve done a fair amount of gushing to my friends and family about why they need Archives. It’s solving a lot of headaches for me.

There’s an elephant in the room, though, and it’s a fairly large one. If you want to download an archive file from an email, that email has to be in the default iOS Mail app, and if you want to download an archive file from a webpage, that webpage has to be in Safari. I don’t use Mail or Safari, and when I tried to download an archive file in Gmail or Chrome, iOS looked at me askance then pretended I had never tried to do anything so uncouth. In other words, it wouldn’t work.

Once you've gotten your files into Archives, however you got them there, you can do lots of stuff with them.

Once you’ve gotten your files into Archives, however you got them there, you can do lots of stuff with them.

Archives is only going to work in Mail and Safari. I do have Mail setup with an iCloud account, so I can forward archive files over there if I have to, and I can copy URLs from Chrome to Safari if it comes to that. It’s not an inscrutable problem. It’s just really inconvenient if you’re not already using those apps.

Final Thoughts

Because Archives is based on The Unarchiver, it can open just about any archive you throw at it. It’s an exceptional utility for accessing files that are otherwise inaccessible on iOS. The interface is simple to use, and once you’ve got your files into Archives, it’s easy to extract what you need and even leave behind what you don’t.

If you can look past the reliance of Archives on the default iOS apps, it’s also really easy to get your files into Archives. A couple of taps, and you’re there. Like so many utility apps, it comes down to what’s more convenient, waiting a few hours until you get to a computer that can handle archive files, or just popping over an Archives-compatible iOS app in a few seconds? For me, Archives is the clear winner.


A handy tool for getting at the contents of archive files in iOS.