Google’s lack of control over their Android mobile operating system is causing streaming video giant Netflix to delay support for all Android devices and may keep it from supporting some handsets at all.
The great content deals for which Netflix is so famous all have a component which mandates the level of digital rights management (DRM) which must be adhered to in all of the company’s dealings with the public. This is generally not too difficult when the system-wide security of the phones being delivered to is under the absolute control of the operating system provider. Thus, devices like the iPhone and the Blackberry offer very few problems for Netflix developers. Google’s Android operating system is much more difficult for Netflix to deal with because Google’s control of DRM is almost nonexistent.
What Google provides handset manufacturers is the shell of a mobile operating system, a bag of code from which an operating system can be built. They provide that code in raw form, allowing the phone makers that use it to make changes that attempt to set one Android phone apart from the legions of other Android phones. These attempts often do not succeed very well: Android phones tend to be obviously Android phones. These attempts also mean the all Android devices are inherently different in many ways, one of which being the way in which they handle enforcement of digital rights management.
Therefore, a few Android phones do a good job of enforcing DRM while others are very bad at it. It is difficult to sort out which is which, plus the low level of support offered by native Android code is not that great to begin with. So it is taking a long time for Netflix to determine which devices have good enough DRM to qualify them to support Netflix and which do not, which means that no Android device yet supports Netflix, according to an Electronista story. Worse, because all Android DRM is not created equal and there is no control at the source, Netflix is unlikely to ever support all Android devices.
At some point, users are going to begin to notice that there are big problems with the outlaw nature of the Android OS. Netflix is certainly one of them, but the users of apps cannot really count on Android for any given platform behaving like the Android on any other platform. Similarly, developers will see those same problems from the other end and notice that it is harder to write for 90 Android versions than it is to write for one iPhone version. If Google does not do something to address this issue, the seeds of Android’s eventual failure may have been written in its open source genes.