Google admits it’s still tracking you

Ryan Nakashima at AP News:

Google has revised an erroneous description on its website of how its “Location History” setting works, clarifying that it continues to track users even if they’ve disabled the setting.

Shocking.

…its help page for the Location History setting now states: “This setting does not affect other location services on your device.” It also acknowledges that “some location data may be saved as part of your activity on other services, like Search and Maps.”

Previously, the page stated: “With Location History off, the places you go are no longer stored.”

I usually default to Google Maps on my phone when navigating around town (or around the country) and it bugs me every time. I know I’m giving away my personal data for Google to sell, but in my experience Google Maps does a better job than the competition in most cases. Maybe I’ll give Waze another shot. Oh wait, Google owns them too.

Android fragmentation, 2013 edition

Peter Ha at Gizmodo:

In 2012, there were some 3,997 distinct Android devices. This year there are a whopping 11,868. Eight versions of Android are currently in use and 37.9 percent of users are running Jelly Bean, the latest version of the mobile OS. Samsung’s apparent share of the market is 47.5 percent.

Check out the visual chart they posted to illustrate this point.  Samsung completely dominates this space, leaving little if any profits to the competition.  Meanwhile, Apple enjoys a 93 percent adoption rate of iOS 6 as of June 3 across just 9 unique devices (iPhones, iPod touches, and iPads).

iOS Maps: the five year plan

No one outside of Apple and Google knows the particulars of why the companies completely parted ways with Maps on the iPhone. The common assumption is that it was entirely Apple’s move to protect its platform from a rival, but we don’t know. Perhaps Google decided to pull the plug to protect their own platform, or maybe they wanted to junk up the built in YouTube and Maps apps with tons of ads, and Apple balked.

The fact is that Apple and Google had a five year agreement, not entirely unlike the one Apple shared with Microsoft from 1997-2002, where steady updates of Office to the struggling Mac platform were promised. People worried that Apple would suffer with the prospect of Microsoft letting Office die on the vine at the end of that term, but the reality is that both companies continued to create and update products that fill that productivity need, and users today have great choices with Office 2011 and iWork.

Most importantly for Apple, they are no longer depending on Microsoft to stay relevant. Five years into iOS, they are (or were) pretty reliant on Google for a core part of their user experience. I predict that Apple Maps will improve rapidly and Google will eventually have their own solution in the iOS App Store, complete with all the ads they want to sell. The new YouTube app does that now. I don’t think Apple would reject a Google maps app considering Mapquest has been available for a while.

I’m not so sure about that iPad mini

Predicting the release of Apple’s medium-sized iPad has been the national pastime for the tech press this year.  I would argue that it may be a very long wait.

Practically no one who follows Apple announcements expected the “iPad mini” to be announced alongside the iPhone 5.  The conventional wisdom was that Apple would shine the spotlight on the iPhone for several weeks to guarantee a huge rollout, and then schedule another event in October to unleash the not-too-small, not-too-big iPad.

But then Apple announced the new iPod touch.

The latest generation touch now has the same larger screen (vertically speaking) as the iPhone 5, along with a host of other significant changes.  And it’s priced at $299.

Which begs the question: what would they charge for the iPad mini?

Pundits predicted that Apple will price the still mythical device in the $200-$250 range, which is well below that of the new touch.  I suppose the iPad mini could be built with cheaper components than the new iPod- a non-Retina screen, slower processor, lesser storage capacity, lousier cameras- all to drive it down to the price of something like the Kindle Fire.

This is a problem for two reasons:

1) Apple would suddenly be undercutting a new high-margin product with something slightly larger, cheaper, and slower.

2) Apple is not in the business of selling crap.

Let’s address the second point first.  The battle cry for the small-ish iPad reminds me of a time in the distant past (3 years or so) when pundits declared that Apple would face certain peril if they didn’t create a super-cheap laptop to compete with the surging netbook market.  Back then there was a range of $200 laptops available at your local Best Buy that ran Windows or Linux on cramped screens and were powered by yesterday’s technology.  Profit margins on these devices were razor thin, and Apple just doesn’t duke it out for scraps at the bottom of the market.

So how much profit would Apple make on a $200 iPad mini?  Not enough.  Amazon is willing to go there with the Kindle Fire, but Amazon doesn’t mind barely operating in the black.

So, what if Apple decides to charge more than the iPod touch’s $299 price tag for the iPad mini?  It would avoid the undercutting I mentioned earlier, and it would sit neatly between the price points of the touch and the the $499 iPad.  That makes even less sense.  Why? Because the iPad 2 parked in that slot at $399, and some believe it’s Apple’s best selling tablet.

Any way you slice it, there’s little if any room for a device like the iPad mini to slide into the current lineup.

Amazon’s new Kindle Fire is ad supported

The Verge reports:

Amazon’s new lineup of tablets don’t just differ from the original Kindle Fire in their hardware. Like last year’s cheapest Kindle e-reader, all three new models — that’s the Fire, the HD 7, and the HD 8.9 — will display Amazon’s “Special Offers” promotions and advertisements on their lock screens. Unlike the low-end Kindle, however, Amazon isn’t offering the devices in more expensive, ad-free models, nor is it making mention of any way to opt out for a fee.

Those aggressively low Kindle Fire prices are making more sense. There’s no doubt that Amazon’s profit margins on tablets are slimmer than Apple’s, but by subsidizing them with ads it shows that Amazon is no longer willing to give them away at cost.

Is it really time for the iPad mini?

The steady stream of rumors that Apple has an “iPad mini” in the pipeline to compete with the Kindle Fire and newly announced Google Nexus 7 got a boost from The New York Times today:

The company is developing a new tablet with a 7.85-inch screen that is likely to sell for significantly less than the latest $499 iPad, with its 9.7-inch display, according to several people with knowledge of the project who declined to be named discussing confidential plans. The product is expected to be announced this year.

Natalie Kerris, an Apple spokeswoman, declined to comment.

What’s interesting about this seemingly inevitable release (although I’m still not convinced) is that it would mark Apple’s first post-Jobs decision that falls outside of his original vision for the tablet.  Apple doesn’t have a history of grappling at the low end of the market (think $400 notebooks) because the margins are incredibly low, and jumping into such a market because of a perceived threat seems like a defensive and reactive move.  It was only a few years ago that pundits were calling on Apple to get into the thriving netbook market or get left behind.  To me this feels like Netbook 2.0.