Netflix, a year and a half after rolling out the ability to download content for offline viewing on mobile devices, is now adding a feature that should have been there from the get-go: a new “Smart Downloads” that automatically deletes an episode of a TV series you’ve finished watching and fetches the next one.
However, it’s first available only on Android devices. Users of Netflix’s Apple iOS apps will have to wait a few more months to get Smart Downloads.
“Whenever possible, we want Netflix to do the work for you,” said Cameron Johnson, director of product innovation at Netflix. “Today, downloads is a manual process — you have to download [TV episodes] one at a time, then delete them.”
With Smart Downloads, the Netflix app will detect when a user has watched an episode, then remove it from the device and automatically add the next episode. Users can have multiple episodes of a TV series downloaded at once, but they typically don’t download entire seasons. Johnson emphasized that the Smart Downloads automatic refresh feature is optional.
Netflix provides download-to-go for the majority of its TV shows, including all original series, but it doesn’t have rights to offer offline viewing for everything on the service (for example, Disney titles cannot be downloaded). The company declined to say exactly how much of the content on Netflix is available to download.
The Smart Downloads feature is initially available on Android phones and tablets starting July 10. Johnson said Netflix is “working to bring it to iOS later this year.”
Netflix’s automatic downloads will work only when users are connected to a Wi-Fi network; that’s so that customers on usage-capped wireless plans won’t unwittingly get socked with data-download overage charges. By default, the download-to-go feature is set to work only over Wi-Fi, but users can opt to force downloads over cellular connections.
Netflix has been heavily investing in the mobile user experience for the last two years, Johnson said. The company uses customized mobile-video encodes, which can deliver 30 hours of content in 2 gigabytes, according to Johnson. Netflix also recently introduced 30-second trailer previews in its mobile apps with a vertical orientation that mimics Snapchat and Instagram stories.
Watch a promo video from Netflix about the Smart Downloads feature: