Late last Friday, one of Netflix's product managers confirmed what many have suspected for a long time: Android isn't secure enough for the movie studios. Instead, Netflix will work directly with individual hardware makers to build Netflix apps for certain devices, a move that would rupture the already shaky notion that Android is a single platform.
It was a known problem already. After all, what else would keep Netflix from embracing America's top-selling mobile OS when it had no problem being a launch app for the unproven (but safely locked down) Windows Phone 7 platform? This could have a profound effect on the future of Android, as video becomes increasingly central to the phone and tablet experience. (Msnbc.com is a joint venture of NBC Universal and Microsoft, creator of Windows Phone 7.)
In his blog post, Peters really spells it out:
The hurdle has been the lack of a generic and complete platform security and content protection mechanism available for Android. The same security issues that have led to piracy concerns on the Android platform have made it difficult for us to secure a common Digital Rights Management (DRM) system on these devices. Setting aside the debate around the value of content protection and DRM, they are requirements we must fulfill in order to obtain content from major studios for our subscribers to enjoy.
In other words, Netflix — and others who secure the right to distribute movies digitally, such as Vudu, Hulu, Amazon and Roxio's CinemaNow — can't just decide to jump into a platform. They've promised to deliver movies and TV shows safely to known entities who can't record or redistribute that stuff on their own. If they can't ensure that this promise will be kept, they can't make the move.
Peters' conclusion is bittersweet:
We live to get Netflix on new devices, so the current lack of an Android-generic approach to quickly get to all Android devices is frustrating. But I’m happy to announce we’ll launch select Android devices that will instantly stream from Netflix early next year. We will also continue to work with the Android community, handset manufacturers, carriers, and other service providers to develop a standard, platform-wide solution that allows content providers to deliver their services to all Android-based devices.
Netflix on Android won't even start until 2011, and it's not known which devices it will start with. My hope is that Samsung gets going on this, because the Galaxy Tab, reviewed here, is in desperate need of video sources.
But the real message is one that anyone looking at an Android tablet or phone should take into account: Because of the way Android is set up, its handsets will be increasingly fragmented, in a way that won't happen with Apple's iOS or Microsoft's Windows Phone 7, or even RIM's BlackBerry, for that matter.