Why wait in suspense to see if there's free Gogo WiFi onboard (which, let's be real, is not much better than having no WiFi at all), when you can download your favorite shows ahead of time then stream them offline? The solution didn't just apply to air-bound travel — it's made plenty of long commutes by bus or train feel shorter, too.
But as transformative as Netflix's downloads have been these past two years, the streaming giant acknowledges something has been missing.
"We’ve been asking ourselves how can we make this better and there was one pretty obvious way," Cameron Johnson, Netflix's Director of Product Innovation, said in a call with reporters last week. "Today, Downloads is a very manual process — every time you want to download episodes you have to download them one at a time, and then when you’ve watched an episode, you have to go back and delete it and download the next one."
That's why today, Netflix is rolling out a game changing new feature: Smart Downloads. Here's how it works: Say you watch an episode of The Staircase on your way to work. The next time your phone connects to WiFi, Netflix will automatically delete the episode you just watched and download the next episode. If you finish one season of a show and another is available, the first episode of that next season will be downloaded after.
Johnson says that most of Netflix's app users will download a few episodes at a time, instead of downloading an entire season at once. Then, after watching those few episodes, they will go back and download a few more. Smart Downloads will make this easy on the user's part: You won't need to delete episodes or download new ones, unless you're starting an entirely new show.
Smart Downloads only works when you are connected to WiFi, so you don't need to worry about exceeding your monthly data allowance and paying the price. Plus, the feature will only download an episode when the one before it is deleted, saving you from annoying, lack of space notifications. Although everyone is automatically opted in to the feature, you can always opt out by going to your app Settings or tapping the edit option on top of the Downloads tab, and turning off Smart Downloads.
The only downside is that, for now, Smart Downloads is only rolling out to the Netflix app on Android phones and tablets. Johnson says the company is working to bring the feature to iOS devices later this year.