A new feature appeared in iTunes today, that enables customers to re-download previously purchased movies on any Mac, PC or iOS device.

The feature forms part of iCloud, and has been available to US customers since iCloud’s launch in 2011.

See also: iTunes Match review

Although Apple has made no formal announcement regarding the service, it is assumed that the delay was due to licensing discussions between Apple and UK movie rights holders.

Movies in iTunes

Movies now appear in the purhcased section in iTunes and can be re-downloaded

Macworld has already spotted movies appearing in the Purchased and Movies area of the iTunes Store, including major titles such as Toy Story and Watchmen. These can be downloaded to any authorized device with a matching iTunes account.

Many people assume that this would be a standard feature in iTunes, and that a movie purchased on one device would automatically be able to watch, or download on another device (as this has been a feature for music for many years).

See also: Apple TV (third-generation) review

Prior to now, it often came as a surprise to customers that a movie they had purchased on one device could not be downloaded and watched on another. It couldn’t even be streamed to an Apple TV unless it was connected to the network with the copy of iTunes containing the movie.

Movies in iOS

Movies that have been purchase can be downloaded (but not streamed) to an iOS device

The movies can also be downloaded to an iOS device, but they cannot be streamed in the same manner as songs using iTunes Match. From a consumer perspective this is a rather odd decision, as movies take up a large amount of space on the iPad or iPhone’s limited memory. Streaming would be a much more practical approach.

However, the movie industry is generally felt to be reticent about changes to its business model, including streaming and downloads, and has insisted on tighter control regarding the sale and distribution of its content.

It’s great that iTunes now enables people to purchase movies in one location, and watch them in another. But it’s a feature that’s so obvious, and so long overdue, that we're giving this one a slow handclap (aimed squarely at the movie industry) rather than opulent applause.