Netflix rolls out free app for Apple iPhone, iPod Touch

Netflix hits the (very) small screen. But how does the Netflix experience on the iPhone stack up?

Netflix has rolled out a free app for the iPhone. Well, mostly free: You still need to buy a Netflix membership.

Some good news for Netflix subscribers who also happen to own a shiny new Apple iPhone (or even a dull, scraped up old Apple iPhone): Now there's an app for that. Beginning today, iPhone users can download an application from iTunes, which will let you stream videos and televisions programs from the Netflix library. The application is free; Netflix memberships start at nine bucks a month.

The app works over Wi-Fi and 3G connections, and is available on the iPhone Touch.

Over at Wired, Eliot Van Buskirk has tried out the iPhone Netflix app – and he declares it a resounding success.

"We watched a full-length film over the iPhone’s 3G connection – Silent Running, if you must know," Van Buskirk writes. "There were no hiccups – in the New York metropolitan area to boot. Battery drain is about the same no matter what you are doing on the iPhone, though the connection type and screen brightness can affect battery life. We seldom use the iPhone for 89 minutes straight, and in this case, lost about half of our battery charge."

We tested out the app this afternoon, watching the first few minutes of five movies. Two played beautifully over Boston’s 3G service. Another pair dragged its heels at first, but ran at full speed once we switched over to Wi-Fi. One, however, refused to load altogether, spitting back an error message about not being able to “reach the Netflix service. Please try again later.” Rebooting the iPhone 4 didn’t seem to help.

Netflix has in recent months faced increased competition from other streaming video services such as Hulu – which is launching its own paid streaming service – and HBO GO. In April, Netflix announced it had reached a deal that would delay the availability of new releases from Universal and Twentieth Century Fox for at least a month after the official DVD release date. In exchange, Fox and Universal agreed to provide more movies and TV shows to Netflix.

It was a win-win situation.

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