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Amazon Instant Video for iPad impressions: A big step forward

On its homepage today, Amazon announced the launch of its Amazon Instant Video streaming app on the iPad. Anyone can now download it for free on the App Store. Because we were so excited to check it out, I decided to snap a few pics and give you my thoughts of the new app, which officially puts Amazon’s video service in direct competition with Netflix and Hulu Plus on all major fronts.

The first thing I noticed was how well organized the content was and how much smoother the app runs than Netflix, which is almost unusable on Android apps and laggy on our brand new iPad. Previous Amazon Instant Video apps for televisions and even the Kindle Fire have been slow, disorganized, and contain too many steps to watch a video. The recent Xbox 360 app is better, but still organizes content oddly. The iPad app is already my favorite. It’s laid out mostly like a mixture of Netflix and Hulu Plus. When you open it, the first thing you’ll see are a few featured shows and movies. Scrolling down, you’re presented with rows of videos on Your Watchlist (it’s like your Netflix Queue), your Video Library of purchased or rented content, and some other suggested categories that pop up based on your viewing habits. Today, Amazon is recommending some Comedy and Drama films to me. Along the bottom of the app is a menu bar with options to return to the homepage or jump to your Watchlist, Library, or Settings. The bar is intuitive and helpful.

Tapping on any show or movie will bring up an information popup allowing you to stream it immediately or add it to your Watchlist. For TV shows, a tabbed row of seasons will pop up. You can touch on a play button next to episodes to instantly play them or tap on their names to read the episode description. Previously watched episodes are grayed out a bit.

Like the Xbox 360 app, you cannot purchase or rent movies/TV shows on the iPad app. This feature may pop up in the future, but we’re betting that Amazon doesn’t want to give a 30 percent cut of its in-app purchased content to Apple — a current requirement of all iOS apps. For now, you must still purchase or rent videos on the Amazon website. However, for content you do own, Amazon allows you to download a copy to your iPad for offline viewing. This is an awesome feature that we wish was available on the Xbox. If you’ve paid to own a show, you should be able to do whatever you want with it. That’s what we think, anyway. Kudos to Amazon for the ability to download.

The other big downside to the app is that there is no search function at the moment. Worse, there’s no ability to fully browse the catalog of shows either. Most of the top shows and movies are in the Featured section, but if you want to find some of the lesser known titles in Amazon’s 120,000+ library of movies and TV episodes, you’ll have to add it to your watchlist from a PC. This is a dumb limitation that we hope Amazon will fix soon.

Though it’s missing search and you can’t purchase content directly from your iPad, Amazon does seem to be finding its footing with its streaming apps. The new Instant Video app is better than the Netflix iPad app in some ways and the ability to download purchased content is a serious plus for anyone on the go. I’ll be using this app in the future. You can download it in the App Store (here’s a link). Keep in mind, you need to subscribe to Amazon Prime (or have purchased Amazon content) to get much use out of it.