Google Play Movies & TV for iOS review: It's here, but it's not that good

When it rains, it pours. Or so it seems with Google of late and its provision of services to iOS users. It all started at D11 way back in May 2013, with a promise – and much delayed delivery – of Google Play Music heading our way. Now, quietly, Google has dropped another of its major content service our way in Google Play Movies & TV. Not the sleekest name, but once again the iPhone and iPad continues to shine as a choice for content junkies.

Like it or not, Google is good to iOS users. Really good. With this latest release, only one of Google's major services is left to drop by – Newsstand, which we already know is on the way – leaving us in the enviable position of having the opportunity of choice. Much more so than our Android using friends. But, does Google's latest iOS project give us enough reason to switch from Apple's iTunes? Let's find out.

Technically speaking, this isn't the first opportunity we've had to watch Google purchased video content on iOS. The YouTube app has offered a workaround prior to the release of this new app, since it's YouTube that stores the actual videos. But a dedicated app is always a better way to go. And it's a pretty simple affair, too. You've got a Watch Now screen with your recent viewings, and the menu offers access to your movies, and TV shows split apart. The settings menu is a pretty empty place, since essentially this is a video player with a Google designed wrapper around it. You can see your content, you can watch it, but you can't buy it.

This, of course, is no different to how Google handles its music on iOS. Google doesn't want to hand over a percentage of its revenue to Apple, so all we get is a viewer. Any buying or renting has to be done through a web browser or on an Android device. So it's the same inconvenience as with Google Play Music. But your iOS device has a perfectly capable web browser on it, so, there's that.

Unlike Google Play Music, Movies & TV is a universal app meaning we're free to enjoy our content on our iPad as well as iPhone without the pain of a windowed app. The biggest issue faced is the lack of offline content, or the ability to stream without being on WiFi. Sure, not everyone has sufficient data plans to stream a movie over their cellular connection, but the inability to pin for offline viewing is extremely disappointing. Unforgivable even. It's present on Android, and if you're buying something, you should be able to watch it without a data connection.

The app is of course fully Chromecast compatible, which makes it an actual, serious competitor to Apple TV and iTunes. Or in the locations it's supported it does, at least. Chromecast remains officially a U.S. only product, and TV shows are currently only available in the U.S, UK and Japan. But if you can get it, it's a good enough solution. Casting your videos works as well as you'd hope, and after some initial buffering all is well.

Since Google naturally would prefer you bought a Chromecast, there is no built in AirPlay support. To watch on your Apple TV, you'll be forced to mirror your display, which is a less than ideal solution. Oh, and speaking of less than ideal; once again Google has sent us a new app that isn't iOS 7 optimized. Come on Google, you're better than that.

Other issues to note; there's a bug that seems to prevent the display rotating back to portrait once you're done watching a video in landscape. Also, it doesn't seem to be that great at remembering where you are in a video. Several occasions I've been sent back to the beginning despite having already watched at least half of the video.

The good

  • Native access to Google Play purchased and rented video content
  • Well designed, keeps within design of Google's other apps
  • Chromecast support

The bad

  • Some pretty irritating bugs
  • WiFi only viewing, no cellular access
  • No offline content
  • Google content is still much more region restrictive than iTunes

The bottom line

The best thing that can be said about Google Play Movies & TV is that we're glad it's here. Choice is a fantastic thing, and something we're blessed with more than most in using an iPhone or iPad. But while we're glad it's here, it's disappointing that it feels half-assed. No offline content is pretty unforgivable – don't tell me I can buy a movie and not watch it whenever I like – and every time we see a new app released that's not iOS 7 optimized, our faces are palmed.

Thankfully, Google rarely stands still, so we can only hope the issues are addressed sooner rather than later. When they are, this might be a viable alternative to iTunes on iOS. For now though, you're probably OK as you are.

Richard Devine

Senior Editor at iMore, part time racing driver, full time British guy

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There are 18 comments. Add yours.

Rene Ritchie says:

Google apps for iOS are so close to being amazing! Come on guys, get them all the way there!!

Armada says:

Agreed. Hangouts just isn't as good as it was on Android. It's a shame because it's the only messaging platform my friends and I can agree on.

clappenings says:

Love hangouts! Use it to chat daily to my bro on his Nexus5. We both agree Google & MSFT should bury the hatchet

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Connor Mason says:

What hatchet? Apple is the one imposing taking a cut from purchases made through Google Play in Google apps, and they haven't even considered opening up their ecosystem to other platforms.

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Mac58 says:

So google decides to share android amazingness with ios and you guys complain? lol No but seriously, I enjoy being able to tell my iOS counterparts that they can use google services. I wish apple opened itunes up to do the same thing...

mulasien says:

I understand the desire to have iTunes and other Apple services on other platforms, but people keep forgetting that Google and Apple have very different revenue streams.

Google is a ads and services company (which supports their ads). They don't care what hardware people buy whether it's an Android or Apple product, as long as people are using their services. Their hardware and OS only exist to support people using their services. It makes sense for them to release products on as many platforms as possible for maximum usage. If people use their apps on either Android or Apple products, they don't care because they still get paid.

Apple, on the other hand, makes the bulk of their money from hardware sales. Their services exist to add value to their hardware that people buy. If they release Facetime, iTunes, etc for competing platforms, they may get a scant amount of money from iTunes purchases, but they receive ZERO money from hardware sales (their bread and butter) if people use their services on Android. If their services existed on other platforms, then what reason would people have to buy an Apple device to get iMessage, Face time, etc if they can get it on an Android device instead?

The reason that Apple doesn't release their services cross platform is that it does not support their business model and would hurt them to do so. The reason that Google DOES release their services cross platform because it DOES support their business model.

Make sense?

booboolala2000 says:

Makes 50% sense. Save for the fact iTunes installs on windows.

And if the argument is that windows is the mm most popular PC, the same can be said for Android and its market share.

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mulasien says:

iTunes on Windows is the bit of the oddball, however think of the circumstances:

1. iTunes for Windows was released right after the iPod was released, and its main purpose was to give Windows users the ability to sync their Apple iPod to their computer. Yes, that means that didn't have to buy a Mac computer to use their iPod (so they lost out on that sale), however it did server to drive greater sales of iPods themselves as the barrier of entry was lower, and it turned out to be an overall greater money maker for Apple.
2. iTunes sales does in and of itself generate revenue for Apple, so I can concede that it is the exception. The other services that Apple offers for free such as iMessage, Facetime, etc do not generate any direct revenue for Apple, as such they have no incentive to offer them on competing platforms.
3. Furthermore, Apple mobile devices (iPod/iPhone/iPad) can sync with Windows computers so the above iPod/Windows relationship continues with iPhone and iPad as well (remember, the first versions of iPhone and iPad did not have iCloud, so syncing with a computer of some sort was necessary). Whereas Apple products do not sync with Android devices, there is less incentive to release iTunes on a directly competing product.

I'm not going to rehash the market share argument except for pointing out well established fact that market share does not equal profitability, especially when the vast majority of Android's superior market share is low end phones bought by those who are the least likely to actually spend money in a mobile OS ecosystem.

booboolala2000 says:

Market share profitability isn't what I was saying. Mass of numbers is what I was talking about. That's a lot of potential money being overlooked.

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asuperstarr says:

Great story. Thanks for the review of this app.

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newboyx says:

Sorry I am an Android user, what does ios7 optimized entail?

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zdn1042 says:

I know we should just be thankful that at last Google is releasing all these apps to iOS but I just can't help but think that maybe Google is intentionally giving iOS users an app that's somewhat lacking in some features compared to its Android counterpart just enough to entice iOS users to use their services instead of other alternatives. And once they are invested on it, they will be looking for other features that may make them want to switch to using an Android smartphone instead.
That's the only reason I can think of because what developer would want to release their app half-baked. Google HAS all the resources and capability in the world to make the app exactly as they want it to be so why didn't they fully commit on it.

Pimp Lucious says:

Have you used new apps that Apple releases? Definition of half-baked.

Lt_Solorna says:

Thanks for the review of the app and thanks for showing Red Dwarf. I think anyone who doesn't like the show is a 'smeghead'. I certainly was ok with the humour they went with the finale movie.

booboolala2000 says:

Its a good way to stream to Chromecast or watch on ipad . wouldn't it make sense that it would violate Apples TOS if you were allowed to save to device?

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Jim Gramze says:

One saves to an app, not a device. No TOS problem there. I just bought a comic book with Safari on the iPad from Image Comics which is now stored in the app Comic Zeal on my iPad. None of it has Apple's finger in the pie.

_Opiate_ says:

Yes this app could be much better. No direct access to google play through the app makes new users confused.

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Finanu says:

It really doesn't bother me that much to go to a browser and purchase my stuff from Google Play that way. It's the same with the Kindle app, and that doesn't bother me either. But what does bother me is the lack of support for Airplay. I already have an Apple TV, so I am not about to go out and buy a Chromecast. What I will do, is buy/rent my movies from Apple so that I can play them on the TV. So Google loses out. If they support Airplay, they allow me to choose to buy content from Google. Seems they shoot themselves in the foot. You can't mirror onto Apple TV as suggested in the article. It's disabled. It is also disabled in the YouTube app for iOS, but only when you play purchased content. How ridiculous. Someone hasn't thought this through.