Netflix Delays Android Mobile App Over Security, DRM Fears

Netflix has delayed releasing an instant streaming application for Android smartphones because the open souce is so fragmented that it makes unilateral DRM difficult.

Netflix Nov. 13 said it will release an instant streaming app for Android on specific smartphones next year, delaying the launch because of content protection hurdles caused by fragmentation in the open source platform.

Netflix product development member Greg Peters said that while the company offers Netflix for iPhone and Windows Phone 7 platforms to enable streaming video on those handsets, it did not have a comparable app available for Android.

It's not for lack of desire, but the difficulty in hashing out an adequate "platform security and content protection mechanism" for Android to meet film and TV studio demands.

"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," Peters said in a blog post.

"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."

Peters said that while it does not leverage a common security mechanism for its other apps, Netflix works with individual handset makers to add content protection to their devices.

Apple and Microsoft both have strict control over the iPhone and Windows Phone 7 platforms they offer, making it easier to build secure apps for devices using those platforms.

Peters said this process is much slower on Android because the platform is so fragmented, with multiple versions of the operating system in play.

Not every version will support the Netflix app, so the company is launching a mobile app that will enable instant streaming on certain Android gadgets next year.

"This clearly is not the preferred solution, and we regret the confusion it might create for consumers," Peters explained. "However, we believe that providing the service for some Android device owners is better than denying it to everyone."

This isn't the first complaint about the difficulty in writing software for the platform. More than 200,000 Android handsets ship daily and devices floating around are powered by Android 1.5, 1.6, 2.0, 2.1, 2.2, and soon, version 2.3.

Because not every build offers the same protections, this makes it difficult to write one unifying app that won't break across the builds.

The issue made for a big, fat target for Apple CEO Steve Jobs on the company's fourth-quarter earnings call Oct. 18 Jobs said:

"We think the open versus closed argument is just a smokescreen to try and hide the real issue, which is, 'What's best for the customer-fragmented vs. integrated?' We think Android is very, very fragmented, and becoming more fragmented by the day. And as you know, Apple strives for the integrated model so that the user isn't forced to be the systems integrator."

Peters echoed this comment in his blog post for Netflix.

What is needed is a standard, platform solution that "allows content providers to deliver their services to all Android-based devices," said Peters.