Why the Netflix iPhone App Makes Me a Happy Zombie


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My Netflix Instant queue is long. Very, very long. And because I’m not a quitter, I’m determined to watch every last bit of it. Attacking it from my iPhone actually gives me a fighting chance.

Here’s a confession: I don’t own an iPad. So while the rest of you have been have been luxuriating in the Dexter back catalog since April on 9.7 inches of portable Netflix goodness, I’ve been eying my 3GS with a mixture of contempt and disappointment. But it was like getting mad at a goldfish for not learning how to roll over. Different beast, different skill set.

But to be honest, even if I had an iPad, I’d still need the Netflix app on the iPhone. Watching movies on the iPhone has never been ideal. The screen’s a bit too small, the battery drain’s often not worth it. But here’s the thing: the movies on Watch Instantly aren’t so hot anyway. Netflix gets consistently boned with delays, up to and including their deal with Paramount, Lionsgate, and MGM that kicks in next week. Short of the often random Starz selection and some worthy oldies, the movies are pretty much bunk.

But fact, the reason my queue is so backed up isn’t movies at all. It’s the season upon season of bygone TV shows loaded on there, that I either missed the first time around or miss today. Firefly. Black Adder. Fawlty Towers. The Riches. Dollhouse. I already mentioned Dexter, which my reliably informed parents insist is a must-watch. And for the small screen experience, my iPhone is perfect. To carry and to display the kind of fidelity I need for TV. And to grab bits of TV any time an opportunity presents itself. On the train, the bus, while waiting in line with a bag in one hand and a video playing in the other.

Here’s how Netflix streaming works on my 3GS: silky smooth over Wi-Fi, gimped over 3G. And I’m way more relieved about the former than I am concerned about the latter. Streaming video over 3G has always been untenable; I’m just glad they even offer up the option. But the interface is easy, the video is clear and crisp enough to make dream of retina displays, and it played back the first five twenty minutes of Futurama: Bender’s Game.

Can I fawn some more? I’d like to if you’ve got a minute. But not just about Netflix on the iPhone. That’s just one slice of the pie. It’s been on the iPad for months. It looks like it’ll be gorgeous on Windows Phone 7. Android can’t be far behind (right?). Then throw in WiMax and LTE speeds. Maybe a future in which studios embrace broad distribution instead of fight it—or Netflix pays up for earlier distribution rights, given how much money they save streaming rather than shipping. That’s when we can watch whatever we want, whenever we want, wherever we want. That’s the dream. And we’re so close.

For now, though? I’m about to go on vacation for a week. And I’m going to spend a lot of it catching up with Mal Reynolds and Manuel and some serial killer my parents watch week after week. I’ll won’t have to pack anything more than my phone to do it. I couldn’t do that yesterday.

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