Editorial: Netflix's Android rollout an example of a good thing done badly

One of the first rules of kindergarten is you don't talk about kindergarten. Wait. That's something else. Actually, one of the first rules of kindergarten involves bringing treats to school. If you don't have enough for everybody, don't bring anything.

The same should apply for some Android applications. In particular, we're talking about the Netflix application. Here's a look at how it's rolled out:

  • May 12, 2011: Netflix goes live. Available for the Nexus S, Nexus One, Droid Incredible, EVO 4G and T-Mobile G2.
  • May 26, 2011: Adds the LG Revolution, Motorola Droid and Casio G'zOne (yeah, the G'zOne).
  • June 7, 2011: The EVO 4G gets its long-awaited Gingerbread update, which promptly borks Netflix. A fix rolls out nearly two weeks later.
  • June 15, 2011: The Droid X gets Netflix.
  • July 20, 2011: Another 15 devices are added to Netflix's "acceptable" list.

So we now have 24 devices that "officially" can run Netflix. And of those 24 devices, only one is a Honeycomb tablet -- and it's one that maybe all of a dozen people have purchased. That's the Lenovo IdeaPad Tablet K1, which only went on sale July 20. No Motorola Xoom. Not Galaxy Tab 10.1. No ASUS eee Pad Transformer. No Acer Iconia Tab A500.

That's no way to run a railroad. It's not good for Netflix, and it's sure not good for Android. The list of smartphones that Netflix is now (finally) available on is pretty good, with most of the high-end devices available in the United States. But the form factor that screams for Netflix -- that'd be tablets -- is still severely lacking.

We know the Netflix app works well on tablets. Hell, it looks great on Honeycomb tablets. The latest version released this week works just fine, no hacking of the app needed.

And if you'll allow a short rant here, we've never been that comfortable with people hacking open the Netflix app to get it to work on other devices. Changing the build.prop file on your own phone to spoof a device ID is one thing; breaking open someone's app and rebuilding it to suit your needs (and then distributing it) is another. It's practices like this that cause the DRM punishment in the first place. And as we all know, it never really punishes the offenders, who just find another way around the DRM.

Netflix has to satisfy the movie studios' requirements to make sure there's not wholesale pirating of movies. We get that. It sucks, but we get it. But look where it's led us -- a half-assed rollout of what should be one of the most exciting applications to hit a Honeycomb tablet, and one that could have made Google's movie rental service all but irrelevant before it even launched.

Instead, we have a great app that finally works on some devices and a scant few tablets. It's nice that we've got it now, but it's pretty much been an exercise in how not to launch a popular app.

  • Couldn't agree with you more Phil. The devices currently listed should of been available from day 1! All tablets should also be on the supported list but they are dragging ass to get there. Same thing as Skype though with their video calling features. Every phone with a FFC should already have it without hacking. Companies like these should remember how they make their money!
  • dude props on mentioning the FFCs! why even have it, or advertise that your phones have it if you cant use it for anything other than taking hot Myspace pics? oh dont get me started on prebloating EVERY phone with a skype app either... every layuser sees that skype icon and the FFC and wonders why their new Droid' is broken.
  • I agree too; if you look at what Netflix has done lately (in general), I can't say I'm terribly surprised at how the app is being rolled out. Something else I'd want to find out; how much bandwith is used when streaming on a phone over 3G or 4G? Carriers are starting to restrict how much you can transfer, so how quickly will this eat up what you're allotted?
  • You won't believe how much. Anyone with capped data already will have to be on WiFi to use this app. I played a movie yesterday for ten minutes to try it out and see what the data usage was. I have a data counter on my phone and in ten minutes. Yes, only ten minutes the data usage was at 92 MB. That's about 550 MB an hour putting a feature two hour film at over 1GB of data. Verizon's notion that most users only use 300 MB is all about to change as you can see what video can do to your usage.
  • This is exactly why I'm staying on Sprint. You can carp about how great LTE is until the cows come home, but it's not all that great if you've been cut off after 2GB (What's that, 2 movies by your math?). Or if those movies start costing you out the yang due to the bandwidth costs, it's also not worth it. I'll stay with my poor little WiMax until Sprint updates me, and hopefully, that won't cause them to go Verizon on us either. (Oh, and by "You", I don't necessarily mean you.)
  • Same here. Go Sprint!
  • I was surprised when I read the Epic got it, but not the Galaxy Tab. That just seemed really backwards to me. I would love to get Netflix on my Tab so I could watch movies in bed, or wherever. I'm not too upset over it, cause my life doesn't revolve around Netflix. But it probably isn't the best business practice, especially compounded with their recent price increase.
  • The newer honeycomb tablets not officially having this app is crazy. Aren't most of them running a fairly Google like version of HC?
  • Very strange roll out. Even knowing that the DRM was the major issue I was thinking that GB had to be rolled out first. Since the 1.3 Netflix update came out while most devices are still on 2.2 (Froyo) I can't understand what took several months to figure out. I kind of think it has nothing to do with engineers working on DRM issues as it is lawyers arguing in a room over licensing agreements. I mean to be honest a top developer could get this app working on every android phone ever made and the ones in production overnight.
  • Why no tab love? It works great on my
    vzw 7" tab! Or am I not allowed to admit that?
  • Shouldn't this thinking also be applied to when we receive OS updates?
  • I agree with your opinions on the road map of netflix but not with your opinions on cracking it. My views on DRM issues is someone getting something licensed for free. When that happens netflix doesn't get paid therefore the money normally acquired from membership doesn't go to licensing fees. This isn't the case we have with netflix apps being hacked to work on more devices as netflix doesn't charge additional fees for your mobile device and you still have to be paying for your legit account. Now I know the production companies want to get paid for every new device their media can play on but with netflix eating that cost by not charging more for mobile it's just my opinion that DRM infringements are a non issue here. :)
  • I got Netflix to work on my my touch 4g, but my iconia tablet (that I would prefer to watch Netflix on) is still a no go. I fully agree that the application should have been for all or most phones from day one. Also, I wonder why all tablets don't work with the application since they are so similar hardware and software wise.
  • The opening paragraph of this article is superb...
  • Still doesn't work on Asus Transformer
  • It does now. Check XDA for the instructions. Requires root and pulling a system library from the Xoom.
  • I'm OK with how Netflix rolled out the app. Sure it would have been great to have it on all devices day one but doing it this way allowed Netflix to basically do a public beta where they could roll-out, test, monitor, fix, repeat. This allowed them to consider network load, the load on their servers, etc. It was a conservative roll-out but probably has allowed for fewer problems overall. Why they aren't supporting the tablets is a mystery. It is the tablets that will really need/use this app. My Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 has a screen that was built for this. I am able to use Amazon's VOD which has been great. But really Netflix to take a few liberties with a famous quote: "its the Android Honeycomb tablets, stupid!!"
  • I'm so late.
    I thought the Droid X was able to view Netflix instantly as of yesterday.
    Oh well, I'm enjoying having Netflix on my phone.
  • Working OK on my Notion Ink Adam (modded with a Honeycomb ROM).
    Pretty cool, I agree with others that tablets are for movies, I never could stare at a phone screen very long.
  • Doesn't matter to me anymore, with the price hikes/plan changes I won't have Netflix streaming after September 9th anyway. Might change my mind if they ever add 3D content.
  • Yeah, same here. I jumped on a free trial to try it on my EVO, I've only paid for one month use so far... When it was just $10 or whatever for the disc service and online streaming it seemed reasonable, but the streaming selection is too restricted (particularly TV shows, blame the studios) to be worth $8 on it's own, and I don't watch enough movies on disc per month to make that half of the service worth $8 either. Rather just stick to Hulu and Redbox.
  • I would like to quote Dr Grant from Jurassic Park(with slight verbal modifications).
    "Okay, I don't want to jump to any conclusions here, but NETFLIX and Mobile 3D DEVICES/CONTENT, two TECHNOLOGIES separated by maybe 730 DAYS of evolution, have just been thrown in the mix together. How can we possibly know what to expect from this? " And now a quote from Dr Saddler(modified).
    "You have Mobile Devices in this room because they look good, but these are aggressive technical Beast that have no idea what a licensing agreement is, and they will play whatever content, whether its DRM or not. " And now Dr Hammond & Dr Malcolm(again modified).
    Hammond : "How can we stand in the light of Hackery and not Tinker?"
    Malcolm : "What you call the light of Hackery, I call the rape of the Natural APK. "
  • I agree that we should have seen netflix on tablets by now. I understand that they want to move slowly, but come on now my xoom tablet was made to watch movies on the go. For those of you with data limits I agree with the other posters who said be very careful with streaming video. I watched a single movie on my droid charge(Wall Street 2), and that 2+ hr move consumed 2gb of data. Thank god for unlimited data plans(for as long as I can keep it anyway)
  • they were too busy figuring out how to charge everyone more money by charging separately for instant viewing to make compatible apps.
  • On the one hand, I do like developers to endeavor to make sure that the application will run reasonably well on the devices they say it will work on. On the other, Netflix has taken this to the illogical extreme. Obviously, it runs on a lot of devices that aren't listed in the compatibility list. That's a major problem.
  • Netflix works on my Xoom now by the way.
  • Fail. There are no subtitles option. I'm hard of hearing and head phones really isnt an option i can use. Uninstalling.
  • IMO it's either roll it out to some devices, or none (until it can be rolled out to all) I'll take the former any day. Could be months waiting for the latter.
  • I agree with just about everything. Except this bit: "Changing the build.prop file on your own phone to spoof a device ID is one thing; breaking open someone's app and rebuilding it to suit your needs (and then distributing it) is another. It's practices like this that cause the DRM punishment in the first place. And as we all know, it never really punishes the offenders, who just find another way around the DRM." Particularly the bit suggesting that users of apps are the ones responsible for DRM and the associated hassle. I don't believe It's *ever* right to punish users for altering software that is running on their own device. I don't care if that user just changed the build.prop file or completely bypassed complicated DRM. It's the users device and they should have the right to do whatever they want with the hardware and software that is running on it. I will concede that it is not ok to distribute those changes without the copyright holders permission. But I would also suggest that we should avoid software and hardware that prevents us from doing any of this by the EULA/Copyright license or hardware/software DRM. Besides, altering the netflix app to run on more devices seems like a win/win situation to me. Users get to use Netflix when they couldn't before and Netflix gains more potential customers.
  • Think Netflix is bad at this. How about MLB at Bat app. No video on most phones for mlb.tv. not many updates either.
  • oh and when they say "watch live with MLBTV!" they mean watch every game from every other team except the team you actually root for and want to watch.
  • My Droid 2 is an accepted device but because I'm not running the stock VZ/Moto/Blur POS OS, it won't install. Off to get the hacked version. Want to know something? I don't feel any remorse at all.
  • There are a lot of factors involved here and Netflix may have had little options available to them. It is unfortunate that this is how it works but you are right, their roll-out just meant that they may have lost out to a very good opportunity to dominate the market.
  • netflix is getting to big for its britches. Instant is down a lot now, and now that I'm gonna be paying to have a limited selection, of which i couldnt complain about because it was free, It should be flawless. Now, I foresee a "Mobile plan" in addition to the Instant plan and the Rental plan. and probably even less choices available to watch via Mobile. I'm starting to hate netflix. do we have options as far as competitors or are we just monoposcrewed?
  • I don't know where the list of supported devices is but I know the HTC Sensation 4G is not on it. I was able to find a version that works but it's not "official". Every time I start up Netflix it asks me if I want to update to a newer version. I tap OK then it tells me the requested item could not be found. It then proceeds to (again) ask if I want a newer version. But like I said, the version I'm using is not meant for my phone to begin with so I must live with it until Netflix gets their act together.
  • DRM concerns? Give me a break. Piracy. Show me how many Android based devices/apps that can pirate streams easier and better than a computer. Region coding restrictions. There's this cool new thing called GPS or network based location services that knows were I am using witchcraft and apps have access to this info.
    DRM in this case is nothing more than an excuse used by CEO's that can't understand anything more complicated than a Jitterbug. I don't support piracy but from a benefit/cost analysis, Netflix on mobile devices is a seriously untapped market. Limit the total number of mobile devices to three. Charge an additional $5 a month for full mobile devices support or a reduced fee for mobile only support and watch profits soar.