By Harry McCracken | Tuesday, August 4, 2009 at 10:09 am
Rumor has it that Netflix may be bringing its Watch Instantly video-on-demand service to the iPhone. Unless there are insurmountable issues with content licensing, actually, it would be startling if it Netflix didn’t want to be on the iPhone. (In some respects, the iPhone land grab reminds me of the mad rush to release Windows versions of existing applications in the early 1990s.)
The big honkin’ question with a Netflix application for iPhone is the same as with any other app that involves video on the iPhone: Would it permit streaming over AT&T’s 3G network, or only over Wi-Fi? So far, there’s no discernible consistency to what’s happened with other such applications. TV.com does 3G but Joost doesn’t; SlingPlayer’s 3G version was apparently rejected on the grounds that it violated AT&T’s terms of service; Major League Baseball’s At Bat app not only streams games over 3G but takes advantage of new features in iPhone OS 3.0 designed to make that possible.
A 3G-enabled Netflix could be terrific; a Wi-Fi-only one would be a letdown. Here’s hoping.
I guess there is one other significant question about Netflix on the iPhone: Is there any chance that Apple would keep it off the iPhone altogether by using the “this duplicates features built into the phone” rationale it’s used to remove some apps, such as third-party Google Voice clients? iPhone owners who have access to movies and TV shows from another major provider such as Netflix, after all, are less likely to buy content from Apple’s iTunes Store.
So far, Apple has permitted other video merchants onto the iPhone, but neither TV.com nor Joost provides really compelling competition to iTunes. Netflix would be a bigger deal, as would the rumored iPhone edition of Hulu. But the really big question is whether there’s any chance in heck that iPhone users will ever get access to Amazon’s Video on Demand, the most direct competitor that the iTunes Store’s movie offerings have.
I’d love to think that the fact that the FCC is now nosing around into Apple’s app-approval process will lead to a chastened, paranoid Apple erring on the side of approving competitive apps–whether or not the feds eventually force it to do so. A really good iPhone Netflix client would be an encouraging sign; one that felt crippled would not be.