One of the methods to completely customize an Android smartphone or tablet is becoming more of a road block this week. First, Google has blocked its new Movies feature for rooted Android devices and now the Blockbuster application is reportedly following suit, says the DroidLife enthusiast site. For Android device owners who have full rights and permissions to modify their handset, that means no streaming video from either Google Movies or Blockbuster.
The center of the video issue stems from Digital Rights Management (DRM), which video content owners generally require of any online distributor of such content. Unlike the music industry, which has mostly dropped DRM security from audio files, the video industry still maintains this protection. Through the use of DRM as part of the licensing agreements with Google, Blockbuster, Netflix or other distributors, content providers ensure that their videos aren’t easily stolen through digital copy and distribution methods. This same reasoning for the use of DRM applies to other digital media, too. It’s why you can’t easily buy a Kindle book from Amazon and simply pass the copy of it to multiple friends, for example.
While this content protection makes business sense to content creators, it’s sure to put Google on a collision course with Android device owners, some of whom are already upset that Google hasn’t released its source code for Android 3.0. Since its debut, Google has touted Android as an open-source effort, which allows handset makers, carriers, and even device owners to modify the system. Android’s core apps — Gmail and Maps, for example — are closed bits and subject to copyright, but much of the Android platform itself is open to change.
Having rooted a number of my own Android devices, I think this situation is terrible from an end-user standpoint. Root access could be used to work around video DRM protection, but it’s a safer assumption to believe that Android owners are gaining root access for other purposes. To install custom ROMs, one needs root access, for example. Changing the file system to a different, potentially more efficient format and bringing a performance boost is another. Removing the carrier-installed applications that are taking up space might require root access. And adding new features or even loading applications from sources other than the Android Market is another good example. Having root access is one of the differentiating benefits for some Android device owners, and is an underlying feature of Android’s open source nature.
Personally, I’ll choose root access over streaming video any day. The many benefits of root access far outweigh the ability to use Google Movies or Blockbuster’s application for my usage. But some may want both; the ability to customize their handset as they see fit and still be able to stream video content via purchase or rental. Are you rooting your Android device? For what purposes, if so, and what’s your take on the video DRM monster that’s starting to rear its ugly head?