Do People Care About the iPhone 7?

Compared to previous years, consumer expectations for the latest iPhone release have been muted, based on rumors projecting an incrementally improved iPhone lacking any game-changing features. These rumors underscore the maturity of the smartphone market and do little to upend current trends of lengthier periods between smartphone upgrades. Apple may be able to weather this storm better than other manufacturers, due to its loyal customer base, but overall it will most likely lead to disappointing sales for the company’s flagship product.

According to an August survey from Fluent, only 28 percent of all consumers consider the next generation of iPhones as likely to be a major improvement. Similarly, only 31 percent of American consumers think the release of a new iPhone model is a big deal.  

This limited enthusiasm for the new iPhone model results from the incremental nature of the new features and lack of a standout upgrade.

Waterproofing (56 percent) and wireless charging (20 percent) were considered the most important rumored features in the iPhone 7 by consumers. These would be strong advances, but are nonetheless minor improvements on the existing device—and one.

Furthermore, there is no exceptional smartphone upgrade for which consumers are clamoring. Of six features surveyed, including more storage, better battery life, faster processor, thinner body, better camera, and new color options, none was considered the most important by more than 22 percent of consumers.

The rumored elimination of the headphone jack would turn off many consumers, but affects likely purchasers to a lesser degree than users of other brands. While nearly 2 in 3 consumers see the predicted elimination of the headphone jack as a drawback (64 percent), those who indicated that they definitely plan to purchase a phone in the next year are equally divided whether the removal of the headphone jack is an improvement (50 percent) or drawback (50 percent).

Consumers Upgrading Less and Unlikely to Switch Platforms

Apple and the entire smartphone industry face some serious headwinds in winning over new customers, as consumers are upgrading their phones less frequently, seeing less value from a smartphone upgrade in an environment where the cell phone carriers no longer subsidize smartphone purchases. A recent Citigroup estimate shows the smartphone replacement cycle has risen to 29 months in the first-half of 2016, up from 24 to 26 months seen over the prior two years.

Additionally, as the market has matured, few consumers are still deciding between smartphone platforms. iPhone and Android users can be expected to be highly loyal to their existing platform. Around 87 percent of iPhone users expect to purchase an iPhone as their next phone and 76 percent of Android users say they will be buying an Android phone.  

Considering that few consumers are contemplating switching platforms, the loss of the headphone jack is unlikely to see current users switch to other platforms in droves.

Apple Nonetheless Holds an Advantage with Likely Purchasers

Despite concerns making it more difficult to convince customers to upgrade or switch platforms, Apple is better-positioned in the short term to be less affected by industry-wide trends. About 55 percent of those who will definitely purchase a phone in the next year say they will purchase an iPhone as their next smartphone, while only 39 percent say they will definitely purchase an Android-powered device.

Furthermore, Apple maintains a high degree of loyalty with its own users, as 59 percent think the iPhone is better than other similarly priced phones. Only 8 percent of current iPhone owners say it is worse, while 34 percent believe it is about the same as its similarly priced competitors.  

Android does not share Apple’s customer loyalty, as similar proportions of Android users think the iPhone is better (20 percent) as think it is worse (22 percent) than other phones (58 percent said about the same). Price is a big differentiator for current Android users, as 82 percent think the iPhone is too expensive. This high price point could limit Apple’s ability to expand its U.S. footprint.

Barring innovations resulting in transformative smartphones hitting the market, the continuation of these trends ultimately means fewer new consumers for smartphone manufacturers to convert. This means that in order for Apple to increase its sales, it will likely need to convert a higher proportion of customers at the top-end of the market. With consumers likely to slow down their upgrade cycles, this presents a challenge for the technology giant.

Data cited in this article comes from a survey of 1,735 adult (18+) U.S. residents conducted on August 23, 2016.

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Climate Change Is Not The Only Cause of Greenland Ice Melt. Blame Sunnier Days.

Greenland’s ice sheet is melting faster than expected, and this has been accelerating over the past two decades. It is now the biggest single contributor to global sea level rise, accounting for 25 percent of the total. But besides warming climes, there is another culprit for the melt: sunnier days in fair Greenland.

A paper published June 28 in the journal Science Advances shows that cloud cover has decreased by 14 percent from 1994 to 2009, at an average of just under 1 percent per year. That may not sound like much, but for ice, it’s a big deal. The researchers show that for every 1 percent drop in cloud cover, the amount of ice melt has increased by 27 gigatons. That’s a vast amount of water, approximately equivalent to the domestic water supply of the United States.

The more plentiful sunshine is actually now the leading cause of the increased melting, says co-author Jonathan Bamber, a researcher with the University of Bristol, which led the study. Of course, increasing temperatures also are important; Greenland, along with the rest of the Arctic, is warming at about twice the global average rate. “But while the changing temp is important, more important is the impact of cloud cover.”

The Greenland ice sheet is melting faster than expected, and this may be due in part to sunnier days. University of Bristol

To measure the amount of clouds of Greenland, researchers used both satellite observations, as well as a complex climate model that re-analyzed past weather patterns. Both came up with similar numbers. Besides the overall drop in cover, the decline in incredibly thick summertime clouds was striking: These dropped by two-thirds since 2002, and by more than 80 percent from 1982 to 2009.

Although it’s not yet entirely clear why the number of clouds is dropping, it may be influenced by the amount of sea ice in the Arctic. Bamber explains that as sea ice declines with warming temperatures, there is more exchange of heat and moisture between the water and the air, leading to more clouds off shore. This changes weather patterns in a way that decreases clouds over Greenland.

James Overland, a researcher with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Seattle who wasn’t involved in the study, says that less sea ice also may help change atmospheric patterns so that high pressure systems predominate over the Greenland ice sheet, and with higher pressure comes fewer clouds. However, this strength and importance of this connection remains a matter of some debate, he says.

Regardless, “this study helps explains why Greenland sea ice is melting faster than expected,” Overland says.

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Black and White Infant Mortality Rates Show Wide Racial Disparities Still Exist

It’s a well-known fact that in the U.S. a person’s race vastly affects his or her health outcome. But this phenomenon isn’t about genetics. It’s related to socioeconomic status and health care access. Sadly, race is a determining factor in whether a person receives basic medical care, and the disparity affects a person’s health even in the first few days of life.

A new paper based on data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, published Monday in JAMA Pediatrics, finds there has been limited progress in reducing the infant mortality rate among the non-Hispanic black population. It suggests that mortality rates for white infants are at least 50 percent lower than for blacks.

The paper reviews data from a CDC report published in March 2017 that, at the time of publication, concluded the U.S. infant mortality rate had decreased by 15 percent in the past decade. That key finding made headlines, but the authors of the new JAMA paper wanted to see if this good news held up after extrapolating the numbers based on race.

What they found for the population-specific data was far less positive. From 2005 to 2012, the infant mortality rate for black infants decreased from 14.3 to 11.6 per 1,000 births, then plateaued before increasing from 11.4 to 11.7 per 1,000 births from 2014 to 2015. Comparatively, among white infants, the mortality rate decreased from 5.7 to 4.8 per 1,000 births from 2005 to 2015.

“The sustained progress in reducing infant mortality among black infants since 2005 has stalled in the past few years,” the researchers write. “This has led to increases in the absolute inequality in infant mortality between black and white infants during the past [three] years.”

In the U.S., the infant mortality rate is at least 50 percent lower for white infants, compared with black infants. Andrew Kelly/REUTERS

The U.S. has some of the most sophisticated medical care, yet the country still lags far behind in the area of maternal and infant health care. According to 2015 data from the World Health Organization, each year approximately 60,000 women in the U.S. experience near-fatal complications during pregnancy or birth. Statistically, this puts the country in the same category of developing nations such as Afghanistan, Belize and South Sudan. In last year’s March of Dimes Premature Birth Report Card, the U.S. earned a “C” grade due to widening differences in prematurity rates across different races and ethnicities.

The researchers of the new report also reviewed trends in the specific cause of death among both populations and found “black infants experience nearly 4-fold as many deaths related to short gestation and low birth weight.” The rates related to both sudden infant death syndrome and congenital malformations increased for black infants in the last year of data available for the study, from 2014 to 2015.

Experts say a number of factors contribute to the racial disparity highlighted in the new paper. Not only do women of color have less access to prenatal and postnatal care, but they also have far more trouble connecting with basic preventive health care services. That means black women are far more likely to have untreated chronic medical conditions that can affect a pregnancy, such as diabetes or high blood pressure.

There also is a correlation between how early on in a pregnancy a woman receives prenatal care and the baby’s health outcome. Women with unplanned pregnancies tend to start prenatal care later than other pregnant women. Recent reports find black women are at least twice as likely as non-Hispanic white women to have unintended pregnancies.

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Bananas: Scientists Create Vitamin A-Rich Fruit That Could Save Hundreds of Thousands of Children’s Lives

Scientists in Australia have created golden-orange-fleshed bananas rich in pro-vitamin A that could save the lives of hundreds of thousands of children who die from a deficiency of this vitamin every year.

The “biofortified” bananas were developed by taking genes from a species of banana from Papua New Guinea, which is high in provitamin A but only produces small bunches, and combined it with that of a Cavendish banana, the high-yielding species most people are familiar with. Provitamin A is converted by the body into vitamin A. 

Researchers from Queensland University of Technology have been developing the bananas over the last 10 years thanks to $7.6 million funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Genetically modified bananas that are rich in pro-Vitamin A. Paul et al, Plant Biotechnology Journal/Wiley

Their latest research findings are published in Wiley’s Plant Biotechnology Journal. In the study, the team presented results from their proof of concept field trial in Australia, in which they had aimed to achieve a specific level of provitamin A within the fruits produced. They found they had exceeded the target with one line of bananas more than doubling it.

Professor James Dale, who led the research, said: “Over the years, we’ve been able to develop a banana that has achieved excellent provitamin A levels, hence the golden-orange rather than cream-coloured flesh.“Achieving these scientific results along with their publication, is a major milestone in our quest to deliver a more nutritional diet to some of the poorest subsistence communities in Africa. Our science works. We tried and tested hundreds of different genetic variations here in our lab and in field trials in Queensland until we got the best results."These elite genes have been sent to Uganda in test tubes where they have been inserted into Ugandan bananas for field trials there.”

The bananas have golden orange flesh because of the increased provitamin A. Queensland University of Technology

The next stage will be to undertake field trials in Uganda to see if the results are replicated. Cooked bananas is a staple food in rural parts of the country, so growing these provitamin A-rich bananas will help people meet the dietary requirement.

It is estimated up to 750,000 children die from a deficiency in vitamin A every year, with hundreds of thousands more going blind as a result. Researchers said that while there have been “significant inroads into reducing” vitamin A deficiency in children aged between six months and five years worldwide, its prevalence in Uganda has increased, increasing from 20 percent in 2006 to 38 percent in 2011.

"The East African Highland cooking banana is an excellent source of starch. It is harvested green then chopped and steamed,” Dale said. “But it has low levels of micronutrients, particularly pro-vitamin A and iron. The consequences of vitamin A deficiency are severe.”

Researchers hope their bananas will be grown by Ugandan farmers by 2021.

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More Than Half of Americans Think Apple Watch Is a Dud So Far: Survey

Only 47 percent of Americans believe that the Apple Watch, which just reached its one-year anniversary, has been a success, according to a survey conducted by the advertising technology company Fluent. But actual Apple Watch owners exude far more confidence in its future, with over three-quarters saying the product is a success and guessing that a majority of Americans will sport smartwatches by 2026.

Surveying over 2,500 American adults, Fluent found only 8 percent owned an Apple Watch. Apple has kept its sales figures top secret, obscuring the answer to how successful Apple Watch has been in its first year. A different survey from Fluent from last year estimated about 5 percent of Americans, or about 12.5 million, would buy the first generation Apple Watch.

But with Apple Watch owners, the enthusiasm is palpable. According to the survey, 77 percent of Apple Watch owners believe that Apple Watch has been a success. Sixty-two percent said they plan to upgrade to a newer generation when it comes out.

For the non-owners, 38 percent said the features and the variety of apps are the biggest reasons to buy a watch. But for the Apple Watch owners who already experienced the product, 46 percent said convenience is the biggest benefit rather than features. Only 22 percent of non-owners said convenience is the reason to buy an Apple Watch.

But both owners and non-owners agreed that the high price is the biggest turn-off from buying an Apple Watch. In its latest live product announcement on March 21, CEO Tim Cook announced the Apple Watch’s price will drop from $349 to $299.

“The Apple Watch certainly isn't perfect, and may not have lived up to the incredible amount of media hype surrounding it when it first was brought to market, but the consumer adoption is there, and opportunity abounds for the future of the wearables category,” wrote Fluent Chief Marketing Officer Jordan Cohen.

Apple Watch owners primarily use the product to track their fitness, read notifications and play music. Fifty-six percent said they primarily use the smartwatch for fitness tracking—a service some other devices, like Fitbit, provide at a lower price. Sixty-one percent of users said they purchase goods through Apple Pay, a mobile payment services created in 2014 to compete with PayPal and other mobile payment competitors.

While current users remain devoted to Apple Watch, Apple is expected to have trouble attracting new users. A top Apple expert in Taiwan believes shipments in 2016 will drop from an estimated 10.6 million to 7.5 million.

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Meet the 1,000 Spider Species Living in Caves. Some Feed on Fish and Frogs

It takes a certain nerve to write about cave spiders. They can’t speak, after all; they cannot correct you if you make a mistake. There is something solemn about them. You don’t want to let them down.

Like all arachnids, cave spiders are barely known. But the little we've uncovered is intriguing. So far, spelunking scientists have described more than 1,000 species that live in caves. These includes both the largest and the smallest ever described, says Marco Isaia, an arachnologist at the University of Torino. The most enormous, the giant huntsman spider (Heteropoda maxima), haunts the caves of Laos, with a leg-span of one foot. Though they are not deadly—like the vast majority of spiders—their bite “can cause swelling, nausea, vomiting and headaches,” according to the Encyclopedia of Life. On the other end is our smallest spider, known by its Latin name Anapistula ataecina, which measures 0.4 millimeters in diameter. It’s considered critically endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, but hangs on by a thread at four locations in the Frade cave system of Portugal. Twenty percent of this underground complex has been recently destroyed by quarries.

All these creatures live in pitch darkness, sometimes going months without eating. Many have no eyes and cannot see. A good number also have very long legs, all the better to sense the telltale vibrations of prey. These may include such large and mobile creatures as frogs and aquatic beasts. (For example, three species of subterranean arachnids in Mexico have been shown to feast upon cavefish, Gollum’s favored food. Precious.)

Kryptonesticus eremita, a species commonly found in European caves. Francesco Tomasinelli

The most common type of spiders to pursue a subterranean life are sheet- and orb-weaving spiders, which catch prey in their webs, Isaia says. Jumping spiders are notably absent, as you might imagine, since they rely heavily on vision. Surprisingly, there is at least one species of wolf spider that is a troglobite (the animal form of troglodyte, meaning cave-dweller). These animals don't use webs but rather hunt down prey. When your life gets tough, and it will, just remember that you don’t have to stalk and ambush prey in complete darkness.

Spiders are well-adapted to live in underground chambers. For one, they don’t burn a lot of calories. That’s good, because caves don’t generally have a lot of inhabitants to eat. (With some notable exceptions, like the kind of tropical dives that support giant huntsman spiders.) They also can store a lot of food relative to their body weight in one feeding. “Their digestive tract is massive,” says Eileen Hebets, an arachnologist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. This allows them to sup every last bit of succor from their prey. “If you ever dissect a spider, it’s almost all gut,” she adds. They also rely on other senses than vision, which wouldn't be an option for many animals. 

In all, 48 of the 113 spider families have species specialized for cave life, as Isaia and colleague Stefano Mammola note in their comprehensive review of the current state of subterranean spider knowledge, published in April in Proceedings of the Royal Society B. That’s more than 40 percent. “That’s absolutely tremendous... it’s bizarre to think how many families exhibit that [troglobite] lifestyle,” says Chris Buddle, an arachnologist and dean of student at McGill University who like Hebets wasn’t involved in the review. To an unparalleled degree, spiders are well-suited to such an existence.

A cave spider known as Troglohyphantes pluto photographed in a cave in the Ligurian Alps, in northwest Italy. Francesco Tomasinelli

But that dank cave life doesn’t come easy. Caves, by their nature, are fragile places to live. Spiders, like other troglobites, are used to caves’ unchanging climes, which reflect the average temperature above ground. They are finely tuned to live in specific places, which are sometimes quite isolated from other caves. That’s why Isaia likens them to canaries in a coal mine; the creatures are incredibly sensitive to environmental disturbance and serve as harbingers of potential dangers to come for other beasts... and ourselves. “If you increase the temperature,” as we’re seeing with global warming, “all of these animals are going to disappear,” Isaia says. “They are trapped.”

Already, there are cave spiders that have gone extinct, or which almost have, like the world’s smallest, A. ataecina. Marshal Hedin, a researcher at San Diego State University, has studied a species that lives in the San Antonio area  “that is only known from a single cave—where the entrance has been filled in” by development, he says. The creature is known as the braken bat cave meshweaver (Cicurina venii). “We have no idea if it still exists,” he says.

Isaia advocates for more exploration, and conservation of the spiders we know about. When people look, they tend to find. For example, researchers just published in April a study describing a new softball-sized spider that lives in the caves of Baja, California. And there are countless spiders out there aren’t nearly so large and conspicuous. 

“This is why we do these reviews,” Isaia says, to encourage more research and exploration.

Somebody has to speak for the cave spiders.

A softball-sized spider known as Califorctenus cacachilensis, found in a cave in Baja California. San Diego Natural History Museum

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