Home Netflix on the iPhone? Yes, Please!

Netflix on the iPhone? Yes, Please!

Recently, Netflix sent out a survey to select subscribers in order to determine interest in an iPhone application for streaming movies via mobile phones. According to the survey’s wording, the proposed app would be Wi-Fi only and would offer the same content that the Netflix “Watch Instantly” service provides. Currently, subscribers are able to stream movies and TV shows to their PCs and Macs as well as to game consoles like the Xbox 360 and certain set-top boxes like the Roku. However, plans for an iPhone application were far out on the company’s roadmap last anyone heard. This past September, for example, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings told Reuters that an iPhone application would “come over time, but nothing in the short term.” Now insiders are wondering if something has changed the company’s mind. And could that something be the iPad?

Netflix Asks Customers: How Do You Feel About the iPhone?

A blog post on the Netflix news-tracking resource Hacking Netflix offers up the full text of the survey, which reads:

Imagine that Netflix offers its subscribers the ability to instantly watch movies & TV episodes on their iPhone. The selection availability to instantly watch includes some new releases, lots of classics and TV episodes. There are no advertisements or trailers, and movies start in as little as 30 seconds. You can fast-forward, rewind, and pause or watch again. The movies & TV episodes you instantly watch are included in your Netflix membership for no additional fee.

Whenever you want to instantly watch content on your iPhone, your iPhone must be connected to a Wi-Fi network (such as one you might have at home or at work, or in public places like coffee shops, book stores, hotels, airports, etc.)

If this functionality were available, how likely would you or someone in your household be to instantly watch movies & TV episodes on your iPhone via a Wi-Fi network?”

Although this is an unofficial source for the news, the official Netflix blog links to the Hacking Netflix site in their blog’s sidebar, which at least somewhat speaks to the legitimacy of the content posted there.

If Netflix Supports iPhone, it Supports iPad Too

So why is Netflix considering an iPhone application now? This renewed interest is intriguing, especially when it comes only six months after CEO Hastings told reporters that “we will get to mobile eventually, including the iPhone.” At the time, he stated the company’s interest was more focused on getting Netflix content onto video game consoles and TVs. With the new crop of Internet-connected television sets, there has been plenty to keep the company busy in that regard.

A likely reason for the new direction may have to do with the impending launch of the Apple iPad. The thin, slate-like computer, sometimes described as “a big iPod Touch,” is predicted to do well according to numerous technology analysts. Already, major media publications are looking into iPad versions of their print and web content, with the hope that the device will help them tap into a new audience of content consumers. Perhaps Netflix wants to do the same.

It’s worth noting that the iPad will run the same mobile operating system as Apple’s iPhone and iPod Touch, so although the survey doesn’t specify this, an iPhone app could run on the iPad just as easily as it does on the iPhone.

What’s Required to Make this Work

The only question now is how will the company build it? The iPhone doesn’t support Adobe Flash, the technology that’s typically used on the web for streaming video. However, that’s no matter to Netflix. They opted to go with Microsoft’s Flash competitor, Silverlight, when they launched their web streaming “Watch Instantly” service for Mac (and, unofficially, some Linux) users back in October 2008.

An interesting side note about Silverlight? It alreadyworks on the iPhone. In fact, in November 2009, Microsoft User Experience Platform Manager Brian Goldfarb demonstrated Silverlight streaming on the iPhone during a live presentation at Microsoft’s Professional Developer Conference. Reports quoted him as saying that Microsoft “worked with Apple” to create this iPhone-ready server-side solution, much to the surprise of Apple-watchers everywhere. Goldfarb later clarified his statement, saying that he meant Microsoft did all the work on the technology, but he did add that they “made sure Apple was comfortable with it.”

However, Silverlight is not yet enabled on the iPhone, so the true level of comfort Apple may or may not have is still undetermined. But then again, one never knows what Apple has in store for the future. Assuming Apple was to give the green light to Silverlight, Netflix wouldn’t have many code changes to make in order to transform their database of movies and TV shows into iPhone-ready content.

Of course, without official acknowledgement from Netflix itself, their future plans for the iPhone are just speculation at this point. We’ve reached out to multiple company representatives but have yet to hear back by press time. If we receive word, we’ll update this post with details.

Update: CEO Hastings did have this to say about the company’s plans for an iPhone/iPad app on January’s earnings call, which makes it sound like the company’s plans have not changed since September:

“We haven’t yet done or submitted an iPhone application. We are optimistic that…it would be approved…Of course that application if it works on the iPhone, it would work on the iPad. It is not a huge priority for us because we are so focused on the larger screen. Until we get our TV ubiquity and our Blue-Ray ubiquity…we would next turn to the small screen…It is something we will get around to but it is not in the near-term.”

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