Sunday, November 16, 2008

App updated: Searching is here...

I submitted the update to the app store last Thursday morning, and it was approved Sunday evening, which seems pretty quick, and shows that they work weekends at Apple...

The new screenshots show the search feature and the similars feature. I will explain in detail what changed in the new version and how the new features work in this posting.  Please let me know what you think of the new features by commenting here, or providing a review on the app store.

There is a small change to the user login button. It always starts off saying [user] but it shows the first name of the user once the app has made a call to Netflix to get the user information. The information it gets is the first and last name, and whether the user can use instant watch. This is important since it is possible to login using a profile, and profiles do not support instant watching. On a slow network connection you may see the button start off as [user] and change on its own shortly afterwards, this is caused by the delay in getting Netflix to respond.

If you try to select the search button before you have logged in, it takes you to the login page, as if you had selected the user button. In normal use a popup appears, you need to touch the text field to select it for input to bring up the keyboard. You should enter some text that will help you find the title of a movie or TV show. The call to Netflix returns up to 100 titles, but the app only looks for instant titles, so you usually get between 5 and 25 shown in the resulting list.

The best matches are listed first, once you select a title it shows you the large format boxshot, and a description that includes title and genre. You can add the title to your queue, or return to the search results list and pick a different title.

The description of the title includes the genre and synopsis, it is obtained via a different call to Netflix compared to the main list of top and new choices that shows when you start the app. The names of actors are clickable, and if you are patient it will launch the full Netflix site in the window, showing you the summary page for that actor.

If you click on the [+] button the title is added to your queue. If the title is already in your queue you get a "can't add" message. You may also get a "continue" popup or a "more like this" popup. The "continue" popup is due to a bug in the Netflix API where it fails to provide a way to get the similar titles in all cases. It has been tracked down and should be fixed soon. The "more like this" option calls Netflix, and processes the results, which takes a few seconds. The resulting list of similar titles consists of the titles that are available for instant watching, taken from a list of up to 100 titles so it usually contains between 5 and 25 entries. Once you have picked a title from that list, if you add it you can get another list of similar titles. You can go several layers deep into the lists of similars, but eventually the iPhone will run out of memory and the application will quit.

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