If your Android is one of 1000, you can stream Netflix

Who says Android device diversity is bad for developers? There has been lots of blabbering on the InterWebs about fragmentation and how it hurts Android compared to iOS. Not at Netflix, which claims support for about 1,000 different Androids. Yowza!

Fragmentation is real. As of March 5th, 93.9 percent of the install base was on Android 2.x — 62 percent on Gingerbread (v2.3.x) and 25.3 percent on Froyo (v2.2). Newest version, Ice Cream Sandwich (v4.x) accounts, for just 1.2 percent, and that’s nearly six months after release.

Back in November, I decided that “Android fragmentation doesn’t matter” and affirmed earlier today it’s more a “perception problem“. Reasoning: Diversity offers consumers more choice and increases competition among Android OEMs. But it’s what developers think of Android that matters more.

Netflix uses a homegrown solution for automating and testing content streaming via its HTML wrapper on hundreds of different Androids. Some devices matter more than others. Amol Kher, engineering manager for Netflix Android, iOS and AppleTV teams, explains:

To put device diversity in context, we see almost around 1000 different devices streaming Netflix on Android every day. We had to figure out how to categorize these devices in buckets so that we can be reasonably sure that we are releasing something that will work properly on these devices. So the devices we choose to participate in our continuous integration system are based on the following criteria.

  • We have at least one device for each playback pipeline architecture we support (The app uses several approaches for video playback on Android such as hardware decoder, software decoder, OMX-AL, iOMX).
  • We choose devices with high and low end processors as well as devices with different memory capabilities.
  • We have representatives that support each major operating system by make in addition to supporting custom ROMs (most notably CM7, CM9).
  • We choose devices that are most heavily used by Netflix Subscribers.

Netflix can’t test for 1,000 devices all the time, and so prioritizes. “We are able to reduce our daily smoke automation devices to around 10 phones and 4 tablets and keep the rest for the longer release wide test cycles”.

From that perspective, yes, Android fragmentation is a problem. There is a subset of devices, and Kher doesn’t name them, which are more compatible more of the time.

How’s Netflix on your Android?

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