Stream Amazon Instant Video on Your iPad — With a Few Kinks

Hulu Plus and Netflix are two of the best ways to stream video on an iPad. They both have a good selection, each service has its own exclusive shows and films. Amazon Instant Video has been around for a while too, but there was never any indication of the online superstore bringing access to the iPad. In fact, ever since Amazon introduced the Kindle Fire, it was apparent that Apple’s tablet would likely never get such a streaming service since it was a competitor.

But Amazon decided to surprise us on July 31st, releasing an official Amazon Instant Video app that allows viewing of all your favorite programs right from your iPad. It even features free Prime streaming for those who pay the $79 per year for the service — and it’s actually $39 per year for students, too. This is exactly what you can get on a Kindle Fire, but is the actual experience as good? I’ll take a look after the break.

Intuitive Layout with No Search

Have you ever used Amazon Windowshop? It’s pretty much an alternate way to browse products on Amazon, as opposed to the buggy official app. If you answered yes, then you have a good idea of what Amazon Instant Video for iPad’s layout is like, but there’s one major difference: the user interface is horrible compared to Windowshop. I mean terrible. There’s no excuse for such a lack of design when they could have made it beautiful.

I really like the layout, but the user interface is half-baked and there's no way to search.

I really like the layout, but the user interface is half-baked and there’s no way to search.

You can always use Amazon’s Watchlist function like a Netflix queue to find what you’d like to watch on a computer first, but there’s no management tools for removing an item in the iPad app.

This will happen on occasion.

This will happen on occasion.

But that’s not the only thing that’ll annoy you about this app. It lacks, of all things, a search function. Now honestly, why on earth would any developer in his right mind neglect to include a search function in an app such as this? This is beyond absurd. In fact, I would have expected Amazon to release an update by now being as over two weeks have passed since its initial release, but no.

Navigating and Watching Can Be Slow

While I do like the layout of Amazon Instant Video, it has a few issues with keeping the experience polished. For example, basic navigation like scrolling through a list of shows or films can lag in an irritating manner. Sometimes the app won’t even recognize that you are touching the screen. I’m using a 3rd generation iPad so lagging should not be happening, and in a world where apps are built well, using the basic functions should be smooth. With this however, even rotating the device will hurt your eyes.

Sometimes things will just pause, never to resume.

Sometimes things will just pause, never to resume.

My one major annoyance is that when it stops to say “Buffering …” there’s no way to get back to the main screen if your connection happens to be too slow at the moment. And while I’m on the connection note, I’ve discovered that there isn’t a meter to tell you how well your Internet speeds are holding up with the streaming; this is present in the web player and helps if you have an inconsistent connection.

No AirPlay Streaming, Unless You Want Audio Only

In any iOS streaming app, there’s really one major requirement: AirPlay. If Amazon’s app were for playing audiobooks then I’d let this slide, but you know there’s a problem when a video streaming app is without AirPlay playback to an Apple TV. This unjustifiable mistake cannot go unnoticed as the feature is a necessity. I’m not sure if they meant to include just audio or wanted to offer both but didn’t. Whatever the case, video should be included.

Download Videos to Take Them with You

Imagine the situation of you not having an iPad with a 3G data connection. What would you do if you wanted to watch the video on the road or during a flight? Simple: download it. Amazon made it easy to download any video that’s in your library for watching offline. Unfortunately, there’s no support for downloading Prime videos, but that makes sense as they do not allow it on a computer either.

Why not save that video you purchased?

Why not save that video you purchased?

You had best not lock your iPad when a download is progressing — that’ll pause it.

It's getting there, but for me it took twenty minutes to download a 480p video on a 15 Mbps connection.

It’s getting there, but for me it took twenty minutes to download a 480p video on a 15 Mbps connection.

Regardless of how it works and whatnot, I downloaded some free content and a few episodes of USA’s Psych effortlessly. If the video is available in HD, the app should grab that copy, but I had a few issues occasionally. A fun little feature in downloading is that it lets you know how much has been downloaded — the screenshot above shows that sixteen seconds are complete — presumably in case you want to watch it before things are finished. At least that’s what I thought until I tried playing it, which yielded additional streaming over the download. A bit unproductive, isn’t it Amazon?

You Can Stream Videos with Limitations

Don't lock your iPad or the download will pause automatically.

Don’t lock your iPad or the download will pause automatically.

Amazon Instant Video for iPad offers very limited functionality. If you want to find something then it had better be somewhere on the main screen because there’s no search function. If you were hoping to stream the video to your Apple TV via AirPlay then this app is going to disappoint unless you wanted to listen to it on your surround sound. However, you can always connect your iPad to your HDTV with the digital AV adapter that Apple offers.

Final Thoughts

In the end, Amazon could have started with a better app on the iPad. The layout is fine and the functionality works, but it could be much more polished. I want to see an app that doesn’t lag throughout, has more features, loses the inconsistent user interface, and doesn’t take so long to load basic pages. When that happens, I’ll recommend this app for streaming. But until then, it’s just OK and isn’t worth a subscription to Amazon Prime if you seek more than casual streaming on this device alone.


Summary

Amazon brings Instant Video streaming to the iPad, but it falls short in areas of basic functionality like AirPlay streaming.

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  • http://twitter.com/DarylGriffiths Daryl Griffiths

    Didn’t get past the nonsense suggesting the Windowshop app isn’t an official app… If you can’t get that basic info right that I’m going to assume the rest of the article is equally inaccurate and ill-researched.

    • http://papermail.me Jacob Penderworth

      Maybe you should read those two sentences again. I said that it was a good alternative to the official app. Stop assuming things.

      “Have you ever used Amazon Windowshop? It’s pretty much an ALTERNATE way to browse products on Amazon, as opposed to the buggy official app.”

      Of course it’s developed by Amazon. Why do you think I said “Amazon Windowshop” instead of just “Windowshop”?

  • LizJ

    Not a good value for streaming to iPads alone at this point; however, if you buy a lot from Amazon, the free shipping on all items without having to spend $25 on your order is great.

    Also, if you own a Roku as well as an iPad, the prime membership becomes a better bargain (the Roku app does allow for searching).

    Not considering the free shipping, I’d put Amazon Prime third tier behind Netflix and Hulu Plus (Hulu Plus has a lot of variety but I hate that it pushes commercials even though their users are paying a monthly subscription fee).

  • michele

    It’s been 3 hours since my download started, and its downloaded 75 minutes in that time. I have made sure that it hadn’t been paused in that time. This was my first and will be my last use of Amazon Instant Video.

    • jennifer

      I’m right there with you Michele. It’s rediculos. First and last purchase.

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