Hands On: Apple’s New Watch Anywhere Feature

Apple is finally getting around to allowing users to rent a video once and watch it on all devices. Unlike Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Vudu, or, well, any other streaming app that lets you start watching on one device and continue watching on another, Apple has mostly restricted viewing of a rented movie to the device on which you started watching it.

At long last, upcoming updates to iOS 10.3 for iPads and iPhones and tvOS 10.2 for Apple TV will make it possible to start watching on one device and continue watching on another. Previous versions of iTunes software would let you transfer a rental from your computer to a mobile device by transferring the downloaded video via USB to the device. However, once transferred, the title was deleted from your computer. The 24-hour rental period for a downloaded movie begins when you start playback, even if you are playing it offline, say, on an airplane where you aren’t streaming directly from iTunes.

The ability to watch across multiple devices makes it much easier to start watching Doctor Strange on the train on your way home from work and finish it on the Apple TV connected to your big screen. The 24-hour viewing period still applies.

iOS 10.3 for iPads and iPhones is in late public beta and the required update for iTunes on computers (version 12.6) began rolling out earlier this week, but Apple has not said when it will update the current 10.1.1 version of tvOS.

Since I have the 10.3 beta on my iPhone and my iTunes has updated, I decided to give the new feature it a try. I rented Bridget Jones’s Baby) from iTunes on my computer. (Hey, it was 99 cents...). I started the movie in the iTunes app and stopped watching after about 10 minutes.

Playback on my computer had to be stopped before I could continue playing the movie on my iPhone. While Apple allows you to pick up playback on different devices, only one instance of playback is permitted per rental. In my first attempt, the video played on my iPhone but from the beginning of the movie rather than where I stopped watching on my computer. I skipped ahead 15 minutes into the movie and stopped playback on the iPhone. When I returned to play it on my computer, the option to “resume the video” appeared and I was able to continue watching the movie from where I left off on my phone.

Why it took Apple so long to join the party with such a simple feature likely has to do with its insistence on maintaining a closed ecosystem. Whatever the reason, having “rent once, watch anywhere” makes getting videos from the iTunes Store a lot more appealing.

Michaela's picture

Can't wait to watch Lawrence of Arabia on teeny-tiny screen, just like the director intended.