Netflix on your Android device? Platform fragmentation strikes again

As usual, Android's greatest strength is also its greatest weakness.

Users of Windows Phone 7 and Apple iOS can already stream movies and TV shows from their Netflix Instant Queues to their devices. The Instant Queue is actually one of the biggest value adds for the service and a reason we keep an old Wii around with a broken optical drive, the reason behind the brand of Internet-connected BluRay player we chose for a family Christmas gift, and a reason that we can get away with one of Netflix' cheapest plans (and therefore remain Netflix customers, regardless of other ways in which we try and trim budgets). Unfortunately, the one place I can't stream Netflix movies is on my favorite device in my relatively large collection of devices: my Android phone.

Although an Android Netflix app has been rumored for some time, Netflix announced late last week that it would only be releasing the app early next year for selected phones. Why? Because of the fragmentation of the Android platform about which everyone from developers to Steve Jobs to ZDNet bloggers has complained at one point or another.

We are eager to launch on these devices and are disappointed that we haven’t been able to do so already. The hurdle has been the lack of a generic and complete platform security and content protection mechanism available for Android...Although we don’t have a common platform security mechanism and DRM, we are able to work with individual handset manufacturers to add content protection to their devices. Unfortunately, this is a much slower approach and leads to a fragmented experience on Android, in which some handsets will have access to Netflix and others won’t. This clearly is not the preferred solution...

We don't know which devices will be targeted, although it's easy to speculate that high-end tablets will be first in line where video playback will be most engaging. There is talk of some DRM- and security-related features in the next version of Android (the "Gingerbread" release, version 2.3, possibly headed for release this week) that may enable the sorts of controls that Netflix needs, but this is far from certain. Google TV devices will also be obvious targets, although Netflix is already supported on both the Logitech Revue and Sony sets (Google TV runs Android with modifications by the device manufacturers).

What we do know is that a whole lot of Android users will be left out in the cold through no fault of their own.

Android's greatest strength has always been its openness and extensibility. Any device maker can use it and bring new, exciting devices to market, differentiating themselves both on the hardware and software fronts. It's enabling incredible adoption rates in a variety of markets and, while Google makes little money on Android itself, the emerging ad revenues from the platform are a serious growth market. These are all good things.

Unfortunately, all of that variety and openness continues to make it harder for developers to jump on the Android bandwagon. Netflix may seem like a small issue in the march of Android to giant marketshare, but it's indicative of a much larger set of challenges that will only get worse and Android spreads across hardware markets.