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Aetna to Provide Apple Watch to 50,000 Employees, Subsidize Cost for Customers

Insurance company Aetna today announced a major health initiative centered on the iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch, which will see Aetna subsidizing the cost of the Apple Watch for both large employers and individual customers.

Starting this fall during open enrollment season, Aetna will subsidize "a signficant portion" of the Apple Watch cost and will offer monthly payroll deductions to cover the remaining cost.

apple watch series 2 2
Aetna also plans to provide Apple Watches at no cost to all of its nearly 50,000 employees as part of a wellness reimbursement program to encourage them to live healthier lives.
"We are thrilled that Aetna will be helping their members and employees take greater control of their health using Apple Watch," said Tim Cook, Apple's CEO. "Aetna's new initiatives will be a powerful force toward creating better customer experiences in health care, and we look forward to working with Aetna to make them successful."
Aetna plans to develop several iOS health initiatives with "support" from Apple, debuting "deeply integrated" health apps for the iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch that will be available to all Aetna customers.

According to Aetna, these apps will "simplify the healthcare process" with features like care management to guide customers through a new diagnosis or a medication, medication reminders and tools for easy refills, quick contact with doctors, integration with Apple Wallet for paying bills and checking deductibles, and tools to help Aetna members get the most out of their insurance benefits.

Aetna's health-related apps will be available starting in early 2017, but the Apple Watch initiative will begin in 2016. Aetna has not detailed how much of the cost will be subsidized or which Apple Watch models will be available to subscribers.

Related Roundups: Apple Watch Series 2, watchOS 3
Tag: Aetna
Buyer's Guide: Apple Watch (Buy Now)

Apple Seeds Second macOS Sierra 10.12.1 Beta to Developers and Public Beta Testers

Apple today seeded the second beta of an upcoming macOS Sierra update to developers and public beta testers for testing purposes, nearly a week after seeding the first beta and a week after releasing the new operating system to the public.

macOS Sierra 10.12.1 beta 2, build 16B2333a, can be downloaded from the Apple Developer Center (developers only), Apple's beta testing website (beta testers only) and through the Software update mechanism in the Mac App Store for those who previously installed the first 10.12.1 beta.

macossierra
macOS Sierra 10.12.1 appears to focus on bug fixes and under-the-hood performance improvements to address issues that have been found since the operating system's release. Few outward-facing changes were discovered in the first beta, but it does include Photos support for the new iPhone 7 Plus Portrait feature introduced with the iOS 10.1 beta.

Any new features that are discovered in the second 10.12.1 beta will be listed below.

macOS Sierra is a significant update that brings features like Siri support, a new storage optimization option, cross device copy paste, auto unlocking with the Apple Watch, and more.

Related Roundup: macOS Sierra

Apple Edges Samsung to Top U.S. PC Customer Satisfaction Survey for 13th Consecutive Year

mac-familyThe American Customer Satisfaction Index (ASCI) today released its latest results [PDF] on U.S. consumer satisfaction in the personal computer industry, including tablets, with Apple narrowly topping the charts for the thirteenth consecutive year.

Apple maintained its year-ago score of 84 out of 100 in the survey, consisting of interviews with 3,500 customers chosen at random and contacted via email in June to share their experiences with recently purchased products like Macs and iPads.

Samsung, in its second year of ASCI tracking, trailed just one point behind Apple with a score of 83 out of 100, a 6.4% rise compared to its 2015 score.

asci-2016
Much like the smartphone category, the personal computer industry has become a race between Apple and Samsung for both market share and customer satisfaction. Apple and Samsung dominate market share in the tablet category, but the two companies take divergent views on the future of tablets. Apple continues to add laptop-like functionality to iPads, while Samsung sees tablets as additional devices for entertainment and browsing that complement—but not replace—laptops.
Amazon, which manufactures affordable Kindle tablets but not traditional PCs, finished third in customer satisfaction with an 80 out of 100 score, while PC makers Acer, ASUS, Dell, HP, Lenovo, and Toshiba rounded off the list with scores between 73 and 78. ACSI's scores are calculated using its so-called cause-and-effect econometric model, which it says is based upon survey-measured inputs of customer expectations, perceptions of quality, and perceptions of value.

While Apple's customer satisfaction remains characteristically strong, many customers are getting impatient with the current state of the Mac lineup. Beyond the 12-inch MacBook, our own Buyer's Guide lists all Mac models as Don't Buy due to the lack of updates in several hundreds of days. iMac: 350 days. MacBook Pro: 497 days. MacBook Air: 568 days. Mac mini: 712 days. Mac Pro: 1,013 days. The latest word is that new MacBook Pro and MacBook Air models with USB-C could launch as soon as October.

Tags: Samsung, ASCI

Jimmy Iovine Talks Apple Music Exclusives Criticism, Says Service Was 'Too Ambitious'

Apple Music executives Jimmy Iovine and Bozoma Saint John spoke with BuzzFeed News in a new feature about the redesign of Apple's music streaming service, revealing the thinking behind some new features and responding to criticism over music exclusives.

Shortly after launch of Frank Ocean's latest album "Blonde," Universal Music Group banned exclusive music streaming as Ocean's deal with Apple allowed him enough capital to publish his music independently. Iovine told BuzzFeed News that Apple has no plans to become a music label, but that he doesn't know how to run Apple Music any other way than helping make and distribute great music.

applemusic
“We put a lot into this, we’ve had some real successes, and we always hold up our end of the relationship,” Iovine said, insisting that he has no intention of encroaching on record labels’ territory. “We’re feeling our way around and seeing what works … Every time we do [an exclusive], we learn something new.” He added that Apple Music would move forward with its pursuit of exclusives from other partners, such as Sony Music Entertainment and the Warner Music Group, noting, “It’s Apple’s show. As long as Apple’s asking me to do what I’m doing, I’m gonna keep doing it.”
Iovine went on to say he doesn't know whether music fragmentation, with different services offering different exclusives, would hurt or help the music industry, but he does believe that services that offer free listening tiers are harmful.

"The rights holders, whoever they are, have to do something, because there's a lot of free [music] out there, and it's a problem," he told BuzzFeed News. Iovine says there's enough free music in the world to make people question whether they should subscribe to a service.

Apple Music's new redesign, which favors bigger text and a more simplified layout, is aimed at users who may not have prior experience with streaming services, including older people and international audiences, according to BuzzFeed News. Some changes, like moving the "My Library" tab to the first and most leftward location on the bottom tab, are aimed at making things easier.

Bozoma Saint John said that one of the questions Apple asked itself during the redesign was how people are interacting with their music during a normal day. The Cupertino company tried to figure out what users were looking for within Apple Music and how the company could best serve that.

That includes a new series of algorithm-based playlists for Apple Music. Apple uses iTunes music data, favorites and play counts to determine what to play in the new My Favorites and My New Music Mixes. My Favorites more closely looks at your history, serving up your favorite and most played music, while My New Music serves up recently released songs you like mixed with new music you haven't heard before, flagged by Apple Music editors based on your taste profile. More personalized playlists are coming to the service, but only after extensive testing as Apple wants to vet all possible outcomes within a playlist before releasing it.

Finally, Iovine said the first version of Apple Music was too ambitious, and that the company "probably" put too much into it too soon. He said that Apple is figuring things out now, and that it's slowly moving things forward. Iovine also hinted that there's new stuff coming to Apple Music that he doesn't think anyone "will see coming."

Apple is currently attempting to bolster the video content on its streaming service, creating original programming like Dr. Dre's Vital Signs and reality competition series Planet of the Apps. Apple also purchased the rights to a Carpool Karaoke series and continues to create exclusive music content with artists. Earlier today, Drake released a 23-minute short film titled "Please Forgive Me," which is intended to be a companion piece to his latest album "Views."

The entire feature on Apple Music's redesign can be read at BuzzFeed News.

Drake's 'Views' Album Becomes First to Reach Over 1 Billion Streams on Apple Music

Canadian rapper Drake's hit album "Views" has become the first album on Apple Music to be streamed more than 1 billion times, according to an award Drake shared on Instagram this morning.

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Drake received the news from Apple CEO Tim Cook, iTunes chief Eddy Cue, and Larry Jackson, who heads up original content, all of whom Drake posed with for a second photo that was also uploaded to his Instagram account.

Released on April 29, "Views" was an Apple Music exclusive for one week before it became available on other streaming music services like Spotify and it sold more than 1 million copies during its five-day exclusivity window. Apple and Drake have been working together since Apple Music launched in June of 2015, with Drake offering a Beats 1 radio show and Apple sponsoring his "Summer Sixteen" tour.

🍏🍎 Thank you to everyone. OVO Sound to the 🌎 @applemusic

A photo posted by champagnepapi (@champagnepapi) on


Just this morning, Drake debuted a 23-minute short called "Please Forgive Me," which is designed to be a visual companion to the "Views" album. The video, which is also an Apple Music exclusive, follows Drake and his girlfriend as they attempt to make off with a wealthy man's fortune. The songs "One Dance," "Controlla," "9," Views," and more are used in the short.

Sonos Speakers Coming to Apple Online Store Today, Retail Stores on October 5

Sonos today announced an expanded partnership with Apple, which will see its popular PLAY:1 and PLAY:5 speakers available for purchase from Apple's online store and Apple retail locations around the world.

Sonos is a popular brand known for offering Wi-Fi connected speakers that are excellent for multi-room home speaker systems. The PLAY:1 ($199) and the PLAY:5 ($499) are expensive speakers, but the simple setup, ease of use, and sound quality can't be beat.

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"Our expanded collaboration with Apple is a great example of our ongoing work with our full ecosystem of partners to make it easier than ever to listen to music out loud at home," said Patrick Spence, president of Sonos. "Apple Music on Sonos is a powerful experience, one we're proud to bring directly to Apple fans at Apple Stores worldwide."
Many Apple stores that sell Sonos systems will be offering hands-on in-store Sonos and Apple Music demos featuring the Sonos app on an iPad Pro.

As an incentive for new purchasers, those who buy a Sonos system from Apple between today and December 31 will get a free three-month Apple Music gift card.

The PLAY:1 and PLAY:5 will be available for purchase from Apple's online store later today, expanding to 468 retail stores around the world starting on October 5. Online availability in other countries is expected in the coming weeks.

Jet Black iPhones Face Global Shortage as New Color Proves Difficult to Manufacture

apple-iphone7Apple's new Jet Black color is a popular choice among early iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus adopters, but the new models face a global shortage as the new high-gloss finish has proven challenging for the company's manufacturers.

Jet Black models suffer from a low casing production yield rate of 60-70%, meaning that 30-40% of units do not pass Apple's quality standards and must be retooled, according to KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo.

Apple says the high-gloss Jet Black finish is achieved through a precision nine-step anodization and polishing process.

When pre-orders began on September 9, shipping estimates for Jet Black models quickly slipped to November, but some iPhone 7 Plus models in the new color are now shipping sooner than expected. In-store availability of Jet Black models remains scarce, with only a few Apple Stores in France carrying the Jet Black iPhone 7 as of the time this article was published, according to iStockNow.

Kuo said limited availability of Jet Black models, along with stronger-than-expected iPhone 7 Plus demand driven by Samsung's recent Galaxy Note 7 recall, contributed to an initial iPhone 7 shortage.
Early shortage not entirely due to market demand. Shipment time for online orders is on par with last year’s cycle, generally estimated within 2-3 weeks, with the exception of the jet black model, which suffers from a low casing production yield rate of 60-70%. However, with the number of countries in the first wave to debut the iPhone 7 rising to 28 this year, versus 12 for the iPhone 6S launch, we believe overall demand for iPhone 7 is lower than that of its predecessor. Regarding news of some mobile operators reporting pre-order growth for the iPhone 7 over last year’s 6S, we believe this is mainly attributable to market share gains for these mobile operators thanks to new promotions, rather than representing greater consumer demand.
The analyst reiterated his prediction that iPhone 7 series shipments in 2016 will fall short of iPhone 6s series shipments in 2015.

Related Roundup: iPhone 7
Tags: KGI Securities, Ming-Chi Kuo

Apple Working to Transform HealthKit Into Diagnosis Tool Aided by New Apple Watch Apps

Apple has hired "scores of healthcare experts" in recent years to develop improved electronic health record software, with an ultimate goal of transforming HealthKit into a tool that improves diagnoses, reports Bloomberg.

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The system could chip away at two problems that plague the industry and have stumped other specialist firms in the field: interoperability -- allowing data to be transferred from hospital to hospital across different databases; and analysis -- making it quick and easy for physicians to extrapolate salient information from mountains of data.
If the efforts are successful, HealthKit could eventually interpret health and fitness data and provide advice to patients, doctors, and others accordingly.

The collection of health and fitness data will be aided by the Apple Watch, including two new apps that will help users track their sleep patterns and gauge their fitness levels by "measuring the time taken for the heart rate to fall from its peak to resting level," according to the report.

"If you drive for a while and your car gets too hot, it says pull over. If you need an oil change, it says check your oil. What's the equivalent for the body?" said Apple CEO Tim Cook at Startup Fest Europe in May. "Health is a huge issue around the world and we think it's ripe for simplicity and a new view."

iTunes Backup Passwords 'Much Easier' to Crack in iOS 10, Apple Working on Fix

iOS 10 uses a new password verification mechanism for iTunes backups that makes them easier to crack, according to testing performed by Elcomsoft, a company that specializes in software designed to access iPhone data.

Encrypted iTunes backups created on a Mac or PC are protected by a password that can potentially be brute forced by password cracking software. The backup method in iOS 10 "skips certain security checks," allowing Elcomsoft to try backup passwords "approximately 2500 times faster" compared to iOS 9 and earlier operating systems.

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Obtaining the password for an iTunes backup provides access to all data on the phone, including that stored in Keychain, which holds all of a user's passwords and other sensitive information.
At this time, we have an early implementation featuring CPU-only recovery. The new security check is approximately 2,500 times weaker compared to the old one that was used in iOS 9 backups. At this time, we are getting these speeds:

iOS 9 (CPU): 2,400 passwords per second (Intel i5)
iOS 9 (GPU): 150,000 passwords per second (NVIDIA GTX 1080)
iOS 10 (CPU): 6,000,000 passwords per second (Intel i5)
In specific terms, security analyst Per Thorsheim of Peerlyst says Apple has switched from using a PBKDF2 hashing algorithm with 10,000 iterations to using a SHA256 algorithm with a single iteration, allowing for a significant speed increase when brute forcing a password.

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Image via Peerlyst

In a statement given to Forbes, Apple confirmed it is aware of the issue and is working on a fix.
"We're aware of an issue that affects the encryption strength for backups of devices on iOS 10 when backing up to iTunes on the Mac or PC. We are addressing this issue in an upcoming security update. This does not affect iCloud backups," a spokesperson said. "We recommend users ensure their Mac or PC are protected with strong passwords and can only be accessed by authorized users. Additional security is also available with FileVault whole disk encryption."
As Apple points out, this security oversight is limited to backups created on a Mac or PC and does not affect the security of iCloud backups. Most users likely do not need to worry about this issue as it requires access to the Mac or PC that was used to make the backup.

Apple has updates for iOS 10 and macOS Sierra in the works, and it's possible a fix will be included in the new versions of the software. iOS 10.1 and macOS Sierra 10.12.1 were seeded to developers and public beta testers earlier this week.

Related Roundup: iOS 10

Snapchat Announces 'Spectacles,' $130 Sunglasses That Record 10 Seconds of Video at a Time

Snapchat has announced its first hardware product, a one-size-fits-all pair of sunglasses called Spectacles that can record 10 seconds of video at a time, reports The Wall Street Journal. The glasses will cost $130 and launch this fall in three colors: teal, black and coral. Video will sync wirelessly to a paired iPhone or other smartphone.

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Snap CEO Evan Spiegel in Spectacles, Photo by The WSJ

The glasses record when you tap a button near the hinge, and each tap records 10 seconds of video footage from its 115-degree-angle lens. The lens was designed to be wider than smartphone cameras, more closely mirroring the natural view of human eyes. The video is recorded in a circular format, as Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel argues that the square and rectangle form that photos and videos currently come in are a vestige of early photos being printed on paper.

Snapchat has been developing Spectacles for years, and Spiegel has been testing the device himself for a year. He tells The WSJ that one of the advantages of Spectacles is not having to hold a smartphone in front of your face because it's "like a wall." Re-watching first-person footage is like reliving a memory, Spiegel argues.
He remembers testing a prototype in early 2015 while hiking with his fiancée, supermodel Miranda Kerr. “It was our first vacation, and we went to Big Sur for a day or two. We were walking through the woods, stepping over logs, looking up at the beautiful trees. And when I got the footage back and watched it, I could see my own memory, through my own eyes—it was unbelievable. It’s one thing to see images of an experience you had, but it’s another thing to have an experience of the experience. It was the closest I’d ever come to feeling like I was there again.”
Spiegel refers to Spectacles as a "toy," and that the best use of it would be to wear it at an outdoor concert or barbecue "for kicks." The company is taking a slow approach to launch with limited distribution, similar to Google Glass. Spiegel says Snapchat wants to "figure out if it fits into people's lives and seeing how they like it." When asked why they made the product and decided to enter the hardware market, Spiegel said "because it's fun."

Snapchat has also changed its company name to Snap, Inc as it has expanded its portfolio past its Snapchat app, similar to how Apple changed its name from Apple Computer.

Spiegel thinks of the newly-dubbed Snap, Inc as a camera company rather than a social media company, The WSJ notes. He studied the early histories of Kodak and Polaroid and how they pitched portable cameras to the public. Spectacles gives Snap control of a physical camera, bypassing the smartphone cameras, like that of the iPhone, at the heart of Snapchat thus far. Spiegel hints to The WSJ that there could be "far-reaching implications" if Snap controlled the hardware its users take pictures and video with.

Apple to Offer 'Spoken Editions' of Written News on iTunes

Apple is planning on turning news stories and articles from popular news sites into audio podcasts called "Spoken Editions," reports TechCrunch. Spoken Editions will be short broadcasts that transform content from publishers into spoken word instead of written word, making it possible for customers to listen to their favorite news sites.

An early leak on iTunes suggests Apple has already teamed up with several publishers, including Wired, TIME, and Forbes, offering dedicated "Spoken Edition" sections on company iTunes pages.

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Wired, for example, will launch Spoken Editions for "Business," "Science," and its homepage. TIME has will offer a Spoken Edition called "The Brief." Forbes, .Mic, Bustle, Playboy, OZY, and - yep - TechCrunch (which I discovered while browsing our iTunes page, of all things), will have Spoken Editions, it seems, as all popped up for a time on iTunes.

The links to all the publishers' Spoken Editions have since been pulled, after our discovery and outreach.
Some digging by TechCrunch suggests many of the publishers' Spoken Edition podcasts were created by SpokenLayer, a company that creates streaming audio and podcasts for media brands using text. SpokenLayer already works with a host of publishers like Forbes, Huffington Post, TIME, Reuters, and more, with audio recordings distributed on iTunes, SoundCloud, and other sources.

Spoken Editions will include audio ads, with revenue shared between the publisher and SpokenLayer, and the company makes an effort to make sure each brand sounds unique. "We make sure Wired sounds like Wired and any other publication sounds like those publications," SpokenLayer CEO Will Mayo told TechCrunch.

Spoken Editions are set to launch soon, rolling out in early October.

Apple Restricts iPhone 7 Reservations to Upgrade Program Members

iphone-7-front-backApple recently updated the confirmation email it sends to customers who reserve an iPhone 7 or iPhone 7 Plus to clarify that in-store reservations are now limited to iPhone Upgrade Program members in the United States.

Apple allows upgraders to reserve an iPhone through its iPhone Upgrade Program reservation system for pick up in store, but many customers were able to bypass the program and pay in full or with carrier financing instead upon arriving at their local Apple retail store.

Old wording:
Can I change to a different form of payment for the iPhone Upgrade Program?
Yes. You can also upgrade your iPhone to carrier financing or purchase it at full price. Ask a Specialist for more information.
New wording:
Can I change from the iPhone Upgrade Program to a different form of payment?
Yes. You must be currently enrolled in the iPhone Upgrade Program, so that you can upgrade your iPhone to carrier financing, or purchase at full price. Ask a Specialist for more information.
MacRumors reader DSTOFEL was one of many customers previously able to reserve an iPhone 7 or iPhone 7 Plus online and pay for it outright at an Apple Store without enrolling in the iPhone Upgrade Program:
I did this last Sunday and it went off without a hitch! I used the iPhone Upgrade Program reservation link to reserve my iPhone 7 at my local Apple Store. I was not a member of the iPhone Upgrade Program at the time and had no plan to join it. I showed up at the store, they had my phone and I just told them I wanted to purchase at full price. Not a problem!
But since the change in wording, it appears that Apple has already turned away some non-upgraders attempting to purchase an iPhone through the Upgrade Program reservation system without signing up for the program.

MacRumors reader vsp attempted to purchase an iPhone 7 for full price last night, for example, but an Apple retail employee allegedly would not let him:
I just tried this earlier today and wasn't able to purchase one I reserved with a different carrier. According to the clerk, they received notice yesterday that some of the iPhones were reserved for people enrolled in the Upgrade Program and they couldn't sell to me outright.
While many other MacRumors and Reddit users have faced the same situation since yesterday or so, some customers have still managed to reserve an iPhone and pay in full or with carrier financing. For that reason, your mileage may vary, and non-upgraders are recommended to call their local Apple retail store and request to speak with a manager before placing a reservation.

For its part, Apple's reservation page has always noted that a 24-month installment loan through Citizens Bank, which finances the iPhone Upgrade Program, is required -- this change just cements it. In other countries where the iPhone Upgrade Program does not exist, such as Canada, all customers are able to use Reserve and Pick Up regardless of their payment method of choice.