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Netflix Reviewed: The iPad’s First “Killer App?”

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I’ve used the free Netflix (s nflx) iPad software daily since Saturday’s iPad launch, and I can honestly say I’ve watched more content in the past three days than I did in the prior three weeks. My Netflix account ($8.99/month) gives me access to the more than 12,000 titles in its Instant Streaming library — and essentially turns my iPad into my own private movie house.

Set-up is simple and straightforward in the Netflix for iPad software. You simply install the app, open it and sign in with a Netflix account. In under a minute, I was able to log in and view the content library. With one tap of the play button, I was enjoying a movie 10 seconds later. Bear in mind — Netflix only allows six devices for playback authorization. If the iPad is a seventh device for you, you can de-authorize another device on the Netflix web site.

Playback is silky smooth over Wi-Fi as long as you have a fast Internet connection to your wireless router. My 20 Mbps FiOS pipe is probably overkill, so I also tested Netflix over 3G. No, I don’t have a 3G model of the iPad — those aren’t due out until later this month — but I do have a MiFi device with Verizon Wireless (s vz). It connects to Verizon’s EVDO mobile broadband network and shares the connection with my iPad (s aapl) over Wi-Fi, so it’s not a bad simulation. Video quality was still good, but not quite the same caliber. Just as it does with other devices, Netflix adapts the video quality to match your bandwidth throughput. The experience reminds me of the variable bitrate demonstrations I viewed after reading Liz’s GigaOM Pro report (sub req’d) on adaptive bitrate technology. A lower video bitrate shows occasional artifacts or other quality degradation, but I found it to be minimal.

[related-posts topic=”Apple”]Occasionally while on 3G the Netflix video simply stopped — but that’s likely more of a connectivity issue than anything else, so iPad 3G owners, take note. Each time this happened, I simply hit the Play button again. I had planned to warn iPad 3G owners about their bandwidth consumption since video streaming can gobble up bits and bytes quite quickly. However, subscribers to AT&T’s (s t) $29.99 3G service for iPad aren’t capped at 5 GB as I originally thought. GearLog confirmed with the carrier that the plan is unlimited, so no worries unless you opt for the $14.99/250 MB plan. I wouldn’t recommend the lesser plan if you expect to watch Netflix — enjoying one video leads to another, which leads to another, and so on until your 250 MB tank is empty.

Like other media, Netflix video content is viewable in either portrait or landscape on the iPad; simply rotate the device to change the view. Like most other video, you’ll see black bars above and below the content because the iPad display isn’t a 16:9 widescreen ratio. Just as with iTunes content, you can zoom the picture with one tap. Zooming removes the bars as content fills the display, but the left and right edges of the picture are cut off.

There aren’t many playback controls to get in the way of the viewing experience. A simple panel allows for a 30-second instant rewind, playing or pausing, skipping to the end of a movie and adjusting the volume. For fast video scrubbing or movement, simply drag a finger along the progress bar atop the screen. Easy and effective. One minor complaint: Tapping the right-most button brings up the Netflix library while video continues to play. I see no easy way to return to the video without re-selecting it in the library.

The simplicity and overall quality of the Netflix application combined with the iPad’s connectivity and display make for an outstanding team. Some are mulling the use cases for Apple’s latest creation, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s excellent for content consumption. Netflix streaming with the device only emphasizes that point. The experience is at least as good as that of streaming video on a notebook computer, perhaps more so because there are no distractions on the device. Holding the iPad while watching video can be a drag, though. That’s not reflective of the software, but you may want a dock or stand-up case for your device.

For those with a Netflix subscription, I’d say this just might be the “killer app” for you and your iPad. And if you don’t use Netflix now, the iPad app could change your mind.

42 Responses to “Netflix Reviewed: The iPad’s First “Killer App?””

  1. eufreka

    fyi, a “review” of an app probably should address actual functionality…

    Given that you cannot, you know, RATE the movies in the app, that would seem to belie any such description as “killer” or “outstanding”.

    “Rushed” and “incomplete” would be more accurate.

    • Hmm…. given space constraints here, I think a fair bit of functionality was addressed. And while it would be nice to rate movies in the app, I personally don’t see that as a “killer” feature that would be a show stopper to using this free app with the monthly streaming service, but to each his or her own.

      Given that Netflix is routinely found in the top apps section for iPad, I don’t think the lack of ratings is hurting it that much. ;)

  2. I’m surprised nobody mentioned the “take it to bed” advantage of iPad.
    I have and enjoy my Roku box, but since buying the iPad, surprisingly it is the Netflix viewer of choice for me recently.

    I sleep in a cozy little loft, and I take the iPad up there and watch it in a variety of super-comfortable ways: leaning against a pillow or on my side with it also on its side (rotate-locked to landscape). The lack of a keyboard and its thinness make it easy to keep at bedside. It is silent, cool, and feels very “personal” and not like having a business laptop with a fan in bed. The battery lasts forever.

    I also use it as my alarm clock. I really recommend “Progressive”, it wakes you to Tibetan chimes, gradually, from low volume to higher, over 5 minutes time, customizable.

    • Ross, I follow the same use case — with a different bed, of course. ;) I watch more video in bed now than ever before because I don’t have a TV in the bedroom, nor do I use a laptop there. But it’s easy to catch a flick or TV episode on Netflix late at night using headphones so my wife can sleep.

      People seem to be stuck on the iPad not replacing another device, which I understand. But in my case, it supplements my lifestyle as a complementary device in far more places throughout my house.

  3. spinedoc

    I didn’t read thru all the comments, so apologies if this has been mentioned. Netflix seems to have been hamstrung pretty badly by the studios now beginning to form exclusivity deals so blockbuster can get the DVD’s on release day both streaming and physical rental. Netflix has to wait like 28 days for new releases. That’s gotta sting.

  4. Paul Calento

    Lack of access to Netflix would have kept many people (like my wife) from getting an iPad. But the Netflix app got me thinking about something else. I’m probably taking the discussions in another direction, but there has been a fair amount of press and recent research ( suggests business (non-consumer) uses for the iPad. Whereas, most organizations can control what applications and content are accessed on their PC devices, do they/would they want their employees watching videos on a work device. For businesses, the ability to block applications (like this) from being installed is key. About Me –

  5. What am I missing?

    It’s Netflix on another screen.

    That’s hardly a “killer app.” In fact, it’s not really an app at all; it’s accessing a pre-existing DB and sourcing linear, old media video.

    I’d say it’s “nice that Netflix plays on another screen,” but, I wouldn’t base my purchase of an iPad on this at all. I get Netflix on 2 home computers; 2 laptops/tablets and hook it into my 42″ Samsung whenever.

    Let’s reserve “killer app” for something that is unique to the iPad, OK? Something that indicates I really should add another screen to the mix because it’s special.

    Right now, the iPad is a gourmet screen that offers nothing genuinely new in terms of a killer app.

    • No, this Netflix product has been a streaming solution since day one — no downloading to a device — online only. You can watch them on the go if you have a mobile broadband device / personal hotspot, however. Or at a stationary hotspot in a coffee shop, airport, etc….

  6. Would it be possible to place a moratorium on the phrase “Killer App” if for no other reason that it’s so overused as to be absolutely meaningless.

    • I find no problem with the term, but do agree it gets used improperly too often. And I think the iPad is in desperate need of a “killer app” to be the game changer some think it will be.

  7. I suspect the negative reactions are based upon historical useage of the “Killer App” terminology.

    I think most people consider a “killer app” as software that is so useful that it solely justifies purchase of a device.

    Since netflix can be watched on a desktop, netbook or settop box, you can still use the netflix service without buying the iPad. Ergo, it isn’t really a “killer app”.

    If you said stated “Netflix on the iPad is really a cool application”, you possibly would have got a different response (all the iPad haters would have chimed in and complained about something else).

  8. I’ve been using the Netflix app to watch TV shows and movies on the iPad since it was released…so far it is my most used app by far. I watch movies usually with it laying on my knee or lap with no problems. The wifi issues I did seem to notice on a belkin router at my parents place but I have had no issues with the D-Link at my place so, both were set to WPA-PSK so I don’t believe its an encryption related issue.

  9. Bill Taylor

    Oh, Netflix streaming is news to you? And you think watching it on a 9.7″ screen is just awesome. Interesting. Oh, yes, it is an “Ipad app” which just happens to enable it to do the same thing any other computer or laptop can be. Wow! Now that’s progress

    • Bill, this isn’t a news piece — it’s a review. If you prefer to watch Netflix on a laptop or computer, then I agree, that’s what you should do. I myself prefer to watch Netflix on my 60″ HDTV, but that adds constraints: fixed location, competing for other uses with family members.

      That’s where Netflix on mobile devices — not just the iPad- comes into play. I’d rather not deal with the fan noise, bulk and limited battery life of a notebook for Netflix when I can get the same experience without those difficulties on the iPad. This way, I can use my notebook battery for heavier computing tasks. Different strokes for different folks…

  10. I also have been Netflix on my iPad. This was the first app I installed. What makes this nice is that you don’t have to boot up your computer to add or search for movies to watch or check your que etc… I think those having trouble with Wi-Fi is with the type of router they have, and how they have it setup. So far no issues on my iPad and I am using a dual band wireless router.

  11. mr-crash

    A few other people have commented elsewhere, suggesting that the wifi on the ipad is a little flaky. Recently i’ve been considering one, but it’s unlikely that here in Australia, we’ll get as consumer friendly a deal on the version with 3G so good wifi is pretty essential. Have you noticed this?

    (my question comes irrespective of netflix, because unfortunately while the service looks awesome, i’m not sure if it’s available here and where I live we’ve got rather cramped internet caps as is – so it’s unlikely i’d find myself using it, unfortunately.)

    • I haven’t tried Netflix on the iPad yet but I can state I have seen no WiFi issues as some report. It seems to be an issue that only affects a few.

      I have the Apple case for my iPad and it makes a good stand for the device in both portrait and landscape orientations.

  12. i’m curious how you were watching the movies. straight down into a table or holding the ipad in your hands for extended periods of time. or leaning the ipad against something?

    • The Boxee folks have covered this one pretty good by reporting that Netflix won’t happen on the Apple TV because the CPU lacks adequate horsepower.

      Perhaps Apple will update the Apple TV hardware at some point, but that remains to be seen. IT almost seems like they don’t really know what to do with it but don’t want to discontinue it.

  13. My question is: does the Netflix app justify the purchase of an iPad?
    We already subscribe to Netflix and sometimes send back movies after we’ve seen a few minutes of them and decided we don’t like them. It would be much more fun to be able to find another movie right away.

  14. [quote]I can honestly say I’ve watched more content in the past three days than I did in the prior three weeks.[/quote]

    Can you expand on this? I think your review did a good job describing the Netflix experience in regards to how the software works, but fails to discuss why you would choose to watch steaming movies on the iPad. I think that’s important information for those of us still on the fence about an iPad purchase.

    What is it about the iPad form factor that got you to watch more video content than you normally would have? Why do you prefer watching Netflix videos on the iPad to watching them streaming to your TV (via Console, PC, Roku, etc)? Why do you prefer watching them on your iPad to watching them on a Laptop or Netbook?

    The iPad doesn’t have a stand, so I’m curious how you watched the videos? We you holding the iPad for the duration of the movie? Laying it flat on a table? Propping it up on makeshift or accessory stand?

    • Kind of my reaction as well. A netbook lets you do just the same, and you don’t need to hold that in your hand like a slate device.

      While I don’t want to call Kevin biased, he does seem to be sugarcoating something that’s been done already. True, not all netbooks have touch like the iPad, but Netflix on a handheld is not a first either.

      • I know you’ll take this comment in the spirit intended since we go way back between our blogs and email conversations. :) I’m not sure I understand your reaction.

        You and I are both netbook fans, but honestly, this is a review for an iPad app and really has nothing to do with netbooks. Sure, you can watch Netflix on a netbook, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t review the app and experience on other devices. It’s akin to saying, I can drive to the store in a Ford, so why would I bother even considering a Chevrolet? They both do the same thing, right? And as you know from our years of UMPC and Tablet PC coverage at jkOnTheRun: form factor does affect the experience.

        Saying that I’m sugarcoating something that’s been done already just has me scratching my head. I reviewed an app and had a positive experience. Obviously, I could be in the minority, but this is the #3 iPad app in the iTunes store, so I don’t think my observations are outliers. As I mentioned in another comment — yes, you could do this with a netbook. But in actually, I think you’re incorrect by saying this has been done already — I haven’t seen Netflix on an large-screened, portable device running on the ARM processor before. That’s a brand new experience and can easily be done for 10 to 12 concurrent hours on the iPad. I think that’s worth considering as something new. And when Netflix arrives on Windows Phone 7 devices, that will be new and exciting too. I know you won’t be offering the same comments about “netbooks can do that too” when Netflix arrives on the phone, so I simply don’t understand the reaction here.

        In any case, we can always agree to disagree. ;)

    • Shawn, the iPad (and other mobile devices) offer flexibility in terms of location and time. I’m willing to give up the home theater experience of my HDTV, for example, in order to gain the ability to watch video remotely. And if my kids are using the HDTV for the Disney Channel or the Xbox, I have to either put off my own content consumption or find an alternative.

      In a sense, this is a similar reason I prefer to read e-books over regular books — and I’m a voracious reader. With the right device, I can read and enjoy content in bits and pieces, wherever I am and at any given time. The constraints of location, time and “do I have the content with me?” go away in these cases.

      To your second question: why an iPad over a laptop or netbook? That’s personal preference to a large degree. Sure I could stream Netflix to one of my two netbooks — but the device feels “in the way” to me. Distractions like the keyboard and getting the display tilted just right play a factor as does the incessant fan noise of a PC — something the iPad doesn’t have since it’s fanless.

      I admit that I find the iPad heavier than I’d like. I’ve tweeted that a number of times since Saturday. But sitting down to watch a movie allows for the device to be rested on my lap. I also alluded to this in the review — and in fact, the basic iPad dock I pre-ordered arrived just prior to when I wrote the review. Although it holds the iPad in portrait, it’s great for when you want to watch video and not hold the device. I was also already considering a case that will hold the device in landscape mode, which will help considerably.