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Netflix updates iOS app with controls to avoid excessive data usage

by Phil Hornshaw

Cellular carriers are trending away from unlimited data offerings. As AT&T’s CEO recently put it, the trouble with unlimited data is that it causes non-unlimited users to pay for the excessive data needs of a smaller percentage of users. That’s why both AT&T and Verizon have moved away from unlimited data offerings and have started to throttle the data allowances of users who are still grandfathered in to unlimited plans on their networks.

That’s not so great for people who like to use the mobile app version of Netflix, however. Streaming video over a 3G or 4G connection can be pretty nice when it works well, allowing users to watch movies and TV shows wherever they are. But cellular carriers aren’t big fans of all that data usage, and users without unlimited plans can find themselves going over their data limits pretty quickly when streaming videos.

To combat that issue, Netflix has released an update to its iOS apps that allows users to switch off the app’s ability to draw cellular data to stream video. While that means sacrificing the ability to watch Netflix almost anywhere, it forces the app to make use of Wi-Fi networks instead. That means avoiding sucking down too much 3G or 4G network data, because overages on most cellular plans stack up pretty fast.

In addition to making it easier to avoid going over your data limit, the new update to the Netflix app also includes some upgrades to the app’s video player. The improvements include a new user interface for both the iPhone and the iPad, adding larger controls that make it easier to search through video for specific scenes and to access features such as subtitles.

Like the web and other versions of Netflix, scrubbing through videos also now includes thumbnails of different scenes, which makes it a whole lot easier to find specific scenes than in the past. Options for audio languages on videos are now available as well.

Netflix’s improvements continue to make mobile video viewing a little easier, but there are still some options for users looking for unlimited data for video streaming. Sprint still offers an unlimited plan, for one, and Cricket will offer a throttled prepaid unlimited plan later this year. For the rest of us, at least Netflix is now designed to make it a little easier to avoid getting charged for watching too many videos.

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