Crackle: Stream Movies and TV Shows Free on Your iPhone

Streaming media services is a fairly new industry and it is a growing one. Movie and television studios are continually seeing the benefit to this transmission method and are still figuring out how to best utilize it. Different services have been popping over the last couple years. Hulu and Netflix are two popular examples in this category.

The natural next step for these web streaming services is to mobile devices. Our devices and networks are now capable of handling these services. The iPhone is no slouch when it comes to media so this is a perfect fit. Crackle is a free, ad-supported video streaming services that has a mix of movies, television shows and original shows in its library. The Web service is great, but can the iPhone application measure up? Read on to find out

What is Crackle?

Crackle is a video-playing application that is essentially an extension of the Crackle website. The most similar comparison I can think think of with regard to functionality would have to be the Netflix iPhone application. You’re able to browse a database of movies, television shows, trailers, and shorts and play or add them to your queue. The application is free, but it is ad-supported so you’ll be interrupted every so often to watch a fifteen second commercial.

Crackle is a Sony Pictures Entertainment Company and the library reflects that. They do add new media very regularly so the shows and movies available is constantly growing. You won’t find movies just released or television shows that are still on air at the moment, but the library is still fairly large and diverse nonetheless.

The application is entirely free with no limits on streaming. The trade-off to this is that you’ll need to sit through some short advertisements. The model is similar to the free version of Hulu.

Design and Interface

The color scheme is dark, which I think fits with the media and video watching format. The overall design is nicely organized and easy to use. As is common with many iPhone applications, the main controls for the application are always (except when watching a movie) available at the bottom of the screen. This is your main navigation.

Crackle launch screen and initial view

Crackle launch screen and initial view

Contextual navigation buttons appear where necessary while you’re browsing the application. This is another common iOS design standard and it makes Crackle a breeze to navigate. For example you’ll see buttons appear at the top of the display while browsing movies to take you back a level. An alphabetical shortcut browsing function (a la the iOS Contacts app) that will allow you to quickly navigate a list of movies or shows.

There is nothing groundbreaking about the design of the application. In fact, it seems to follow the most common iOS conventions quite closely. This is a good thing as those conventions became common because they were good, so Crackle is simple to use and it’s a breeze to pick up and understand how it works very quickly.

Functionality

Crackle is a web service to begin with and this application can be used alone or as an an extension of that service. The iOS application carries with it essentially the same functionality as the web application does. From checking out featured content to browsing different media libraries to adding content to your queue. We’ll take a spin through the specific sections of the application to get a better sense of exactly how it all works.

Featured

When you view the Crackle website (www.crackle.com) you’ll see some featured content sliding across the screen. The iPhone application has this same feature. In fact the initial launch screen is the featured screen. You’ll get a quick view of some of the latest content available with a little blurb about each item. From what I’ve noticed, this can be helpful for pointing out what content is new as the Crackle library is constantly growing. It can feel a bit “advertise-y” but overall I think it’s a nice feature. I would compare it to the featured area of the Appstore.

A featured movie

A featured movie

Movies

Obviously, a big part of this application is being able to watch movies on your iPhone. The Movies section is essentially an already filtered list of all the movies available on Crackle. Initially, you’ll see a list of featured movies, but it can be sorted by Most Popular and Recently Added by using a category spinner as well. It would be nice to have a few more options for sorting there, but if you want to do some more serious searching the “Browse” section is where you’ll head anyway so it isn’t a huge issue. We’ll talk more about browsing later on.

Movie listing and the list filter spinner

Movie listing and the list filter spinner

On the movie list you’ll see the movies in a list format each showing the title of the movie, the genre, a rating and a thumbnail of the movie poster. It’s the right amount of information for you to quickly scan and make some decently informed decisions about whether you’re interested in a movie or not. Tapping on a movie will bring you to the full movie view page where you’ll see the same info as on the list along with running time a quick synopsis and also a section called Why It Crackles. As far as I can tell this is simply a quick review of the film. It’s typically only a sentence or two and seems rather pointless most of the time.

Movie page

Movie page

A button to “Watch Now” is displayed right below this section. As you would guess, pressing this button opens the media player in full landscape orientation for you to watch. Some movies will also have a button to view the movie in iTunes. Tapping this button will open iTunes and take you right to the listing so you can purchase the movie if you would like.

Further down on the page you’ll see some options to take you to the Channel Home, which doesn’t really take you anywhere different so I’m not completely sure what the point of that function is exactly. You’ll also have the ability to add the movie to your queue and also share it via Facebook, Twitter, or email.

Being able to queue movies and shows is a great feature and can come in really handy with an application like this. It really could be one of its most important features as a matter fact. Sharing is also a nice touch, but I don’t think I see it as a huge feature. It could be nice to share a movie or show with a friend of yours from time to time, but this isn’t something that I’ll be using that often.

Sharing a movie and adding it to your queue

Sharing a movie and adding it to your queue

Shows

There are lots of interface similarities between the Shows section to the Movies section. As with Movies, the initial page is a list of the shows currently being featured by Crackle. This list is also sortable by Most Popular and Most Recent. Each show in the list this time displays the title, genre and rating along with a poster for the show.

Tapping on a show listing will take you to the full page for that particular show. There you’ll see some additional information such as a rating, release date, a short synopsis as well as the Why It Crackles note. From a full show page you are able to navigate to the Full Episode listing for the show your a currently viewing. Tapping that will take you to another list of each available show.

The format is essentially exactly the same as the other listings we’ve already talked about. Tapping on an individual episode will give you the information specifically about that episode with the options to watch it, share it, add it to your queue, or go to the channel home. The Channel Home for a show is simply the main show listing where we initially started.

Shows listing and show page

Shows listing and show page

Navigating around is really quite simple and all along the way you’ll see contextual navigation buttons appearing at the top of the screen so you can easily jump back to the previous screen. It’s a pretty intuitive interface and I had no problems doing what I wanted to do.

Browse

This is the section where you’ll be going to search for that one particular movie or show you’re looking for. Initially the view will show you a handful of different categories to split up your search right off the bat. You chose between browsing movies, television originals, genres, or collections.

Browse categories and full movie list

Browse categories and full movie list

The movies, television, and originals sections function pretty much the same. Tapping on one of those will bring up a listing of everything available in that category. The list is alphabetized and displays only the name of the movie or show. A super helpful feature on this list is the alphabet slider on the right hand side of the display. This is the exact same feature that is in the iOS Contacts application and enables you to quickly jump to certain areas of the list without needing to scroll through the entire listing.

Browsing by genre or collections gives you another level of filtering. The genres allows you to only look at certain those certain categories of movies, shows or originals. This is a nice way to simply browse for something to watch with nothing other than a genre in mind. If I’m in the mood for some comedy, but can’t think of anything specific, perfect, I’ll just browse the comedy movie genre.

Browsing genres

Browsing genres

Crackle has put together some curated groups it calls collections. These are assemblages of movies or shows that fit into some particular group. For example there are collections called Slapstick, Lost in the ’70s, Blockbusters, Chick Flicks, and many others. Again, this is a really nice area to just wander if you’re not entirely sure what you’re looking for. It adds a little direction to the aimless wandering.

Browsing collections

Browsing collections

More

As is common with many iOS applications you’ll see an area that holds a few additional features and functionality that hasn’t been deemed important enough to warrant a navigational button all its own. In the More section of Crackle you’ll be able to do things like a full keyword search, along with managing your Crackle account and queue. Knowing that your queue listing is housed here is definitely the most important and useful item in this area.

I should also note that an account isn’t necessary to use this application, but it is if you want to use features like the queue which can then be synched with items queued using the website or iPad application. I should also note that the edit button at the top of the More section will allow you to customize which buttons are used in the main navigation. So, you could place My Queue in place of Featured if you so choose.

More with the queue list

More with the queue list

Video Library

As with any video and music streaming service and application the available content is a very important thing to discuss. It can really make or break an application. Even the most wonderful interface in the world can’t cover up a lack of good content. So where does Crackle grade in this area?

Crackle is a Sony Pictures Entertainment company so as far as I can tell the library is limited to what is available to them. Fortunately that is a pretty large chunk of media so there is definitely plenty available. So far I haven’t been exactly blown away or left wanting by the current selection. I think this is a pretty common feeling when using any video streaming service and it will be the case as long as each producer is holding on to their content.

You’re not going to find anything that has just been released and I will say that it the library does seem smaller than Hulu or Netflix, but that said the library is still solid and everyone should be able to find some shows and movies that are of interest. Crackle claims to be constantly releasing new media into the library so the selection should continue to improve over time.

Conclusion

Media streaming is an interesting space to be in right now and there are certainly many different angles that companies take to the function. Crackle has chosen to go the free, yet ad-supported route, which I think works fairly well. As long as the service is free I certainly have no problem watching a fifteen second commercial. While they are an interruption, they are short and really not that big of a deal.

The Crackle application is well done and not the place where you would dock any points. The interface is well designed and easy to use and bug free. I never had any problems actually using the application. Depending on the movies and shows you are looking for you could dock some points for the content available in the library, but that is a fairly subjective criticism. There’s a bunch of Seinfeld content available with more planned to be added so if that’s a favorite of yours then you’ve got it made.

Video streaming I’m afraid will always be a mixed bag service when looking at it from the consumer side. Each company that releases a service only has access to certain content so to have access to as much as possible you’ll need to use multiple services. The good news is that more and more content is becoming available, the bad news is that it is still pretty segmented. Crackle is one such segment and absolutely worth checking out especially with this great, free iPhone application.


Summary

Watch streaming movies and television shows right on your iPhone.

8