Amazon has been making real strides in its attempt to catch up to Netflix, and today the company is delivering a feature that arguably leapfrogs its streaming competitor in sheer utility: offline playback for both iOS and Android devices. An update to the company's mobile video apps for each platform — now renamed "Amazon Video" — lets Prime subscribers download the service's streaming titles for viewing, just as customers had been able to do on Amazon's line of Fire devices. The change takes one of the biggest inconveniences of streaming services and removes it from the equation entirely. Now, if you're in the middle of binging Downton Abbey and need to jump on a plane, you won't have to go without; you'll be able to download a number of episodes and take the Crawleys with you.
A shot across the bow of Netflix
As part of the update, the company is also dropping the clunky "instant" from the name of its subscription streaming service, which will now just be known as Amazon Prime Video. The downloading feature is a clear shot across the bow of Netflix, which last year emphatically stated that it would never add offline playback. Why Netflix has held such a hardline stance has been a little unclear, but the reasons are no doubt varied. The licensing agreements the company strikes would need to incorporate the option of offline playback — studios would likely want to be compensated for revenue they could lose from travel-related movie rentals and sales — and Netflix's own infrastructure has been designed around the concept of streaming, rather than widespread downloads. Amazon, on the other hand, already has an appropriate infrastructure in place for those buying movies, and has proven to be quite aggressive when it comes to licensing.
That said, for now only a subset of Prime Video titles will be available for offline playback, including (of course) Amazon's original shows like Transparent and Bosch, and programs coming from the exclusive licensing agreements the company has recently struck with the likes of NBCUniversal (Hannibal), CBS (Under the Dome), and Fox (24). Amazon is highlighting several movies as well, including Star Trek Into Darkness and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. If those names sound familiar, that's because they're some of the many movies that Netflix is set to lose as its deal with Epix draws to a close at the end of September. I'm going to pretend that's just a coincidence.