Android This Week: Hulu Plus lands; Falling market share; TV tech on phones

A handful of Android devices this week became the first to gain access to Hulu Plus, a subscription-based service for online movies and television programs. The software is free, but most content on Hulu Plus is only accessible by paying a $7.99 monthly fee. Similar to Netflix, Hulu Plus is only available for small subset of Android phones during the initial rollout; likely due to testing each individual Android phone model to ensure it meets the appropriate Digital Rights Management (DRM) requirements.

For now, Hulu Plus is only supported on the Nexus One, Nexus S, HTC Inspire 4G, and three Motorola phones: the Droid 2, Droid X, and Atrix 4G. In a blog post announcing the new software, the folks at Hulu Plus said it “expects to add to the number of Android smartphones and will be making additional device announcements throughout the year.”

I have both a Nexus One and a trial subscription to Hulu Plus, so I gave the software a try earlier this week. I found it to work quite well, even over a 3G connection. The menus are intuitive and the video quality is on par with other high-quality video streaming services.

In other Android news related to video quality, Sony Ericsson announced two new smartphones that borrow from Sony’s high definition television technology. The Xperia Active and Xperia Ray both use the Bravia Mobile Engine to enhance video playback on their “Reality Displays”, bringing improved contrast, color management and noise reduction. Although I haven’t seen either of these phones yet — they aren’t due to arrive until the third quarter of 2011 — the video demonstration shows promise:

Aside from the display technology, Sony Ericsson is trying to differentiate the Active by ruggedizing it for exercise. The capacitive touch screen works even with water or sweat on the screen and can survive up to one meter in water for 30 minutes. Various sports tracking software applications are also pre-installed.

These models may help Sony Ericsson’s market share, but Android’s as a whole is showing some slowness; at least in the U.S. Earlier this week, Charlie Wolf, an analyst from Needham & Co., suggested that out that Android’s market share in the U.S. fell to 49.5 percent from 52.4 percent in the first quarter of 2011.

This marks the first decline for Android in any region of the world and is largely due to the Verizon iPhone, thinks Wolf. If true, it’s likely that Android’s market share will continue to be challenged this year as a new iPhone is expected for both Verizon and AT&T in September. In addition to new hardware, the iPhone’s software looks good too; even from an Android owner’s point of view.