Netflix comes to the iPhone

The streaming movie service is (nearly) everywhere: on your phone, your TV, your computer, and your game console.
The streaming movie service is (nearly) everywhere: on your phone, your TV, your computer, and your game console.

The idea of 'ꀜyour media ... everywhere'ꀝ just got a little more real. Netflix on Thursday made its movie subscription service available on the Apple iPhone. If you'ꀙre somewhere in the outback and need your flicks fix, you can watch one of approximately 17,000 full-length movies or TV shows available for instant viewing.

For those unfamiliar with Netflix, it'ꀙs a service that brings full-length movies directly to you either by U.S. mail or instantly via the Internet. The Internet streaming feature has been attracting the most attention: You can watch an unlimited number of films and TV shows on your computer, smartphone, or other device for about $9 a month. For those who still prefer DVDs, you can get one DVD at a time included with that package; if you want up to 8 DVDs (including Blu-ray titles), your monthly tab increases. The DVD-by-mail service has well over 100,000 titles.

I tested the service on an iPhone while I was in the dentist's chair (anything to distract me). I had downloaded the app from the Apple store and had installed it in a few seconds. When I entered my name and password from the chair, I was up and running almost instantly.

I had been watching a movie via Netflix three nights ago on a laptop computer. Without my asking, the movie was there for watching on my iPhone: paused at the point I had stopped watching days before. A pretty neat feature. (The app also is available on the iPod Touch as a WiFi-only service.)

Netflix is aggressively moving to strengthen its position as the go-to company for streaming movies. A few days ago, it released an app for the iPad. An Android phone app, according to the blogosphere, is due anytime. There are stand-alone boxes such as the $100 Roku to bring Netflix to your TV. There are also a growing number of Blu-ray players and game consoles that you can use to see Netflix flicks.

The idea of seeing streaming media everywhere, and at reasonable prices, is among the most striking developments in today'ꀙs consumer tech world. Netflix is clearly leading the charge, but a 100,000-pound gorilla may be waiting in the wings: Apple is about to have one of its media 'ꀜevents'ꀝ on Wednesday (Sept. 1). The rumor mill has the company announcing an upgraded version of its Apple TV box: a unit that attaches to your TV set and makes the iTunes Store library of movies and TV shows available for watching on your TV. (You can also use your laptop to connect to your TV.)

The buzz is that Apple will announce pricing plans that will bring down the cost for renting many TV shows and movies. The sweet spot economically is rumored to be 99 cents — the same as many, if not most, iPhone apps. Renting movies and TV shows from iTunes is pricey. An example: Episodes of CBS'ꀙ stellar new series, 'ꀜThe Good Wife,'ꀝ can only be purchased, not rented, on iTunes, and at a price of $3 per episode; a 'ꀜseasons pass'ꀝ for all 23 episodes is $60. Complain as loudly as you like about the fact that they were free when they were originally broadcast.

There are a raft of other services — some paid, some free — that stream episodes to your TV and Internet-connected devices. The big issue is selection: Who has the shows you want to see, and how much will it cost to see them? A quick preview: The FX drama "Damages" was canceled in July after three seasons. The new season has been picked up by Direct TV, the satellite service, and will be available only to Direct TV subscribers. No Direct TV? No "Damages." You'll have to wait for the DVD. Maybe you'll even see it on Netflix ... next year.


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