Gears & Gadgets

COVID-19 contact tracing hits Apple devices with iOS and iPadOS 13.5

Closeup photo of a hand holding the iPhone 11
Enlarge / The iPhone 11.
Samuel Axon

Apple released iOS 13.5 and iPadOS 13.5 for iPhones, iPods, and iPads today. They went live alongside minor software updates for Apple TV and HomePod devices. The iOS update mainly adds new health-related features—most notably the much-discussed Exposure Notification API that was co-developed with Google to help local, regional, and national governments enact contact-tracing strategies to battle the COVID-19 pandemic.

Usage of the contact tracing API is user-optional. Additionally, exposure reports require the user to, once again, opt in to the notification, and it can only be done after the positive result is confirmed by one of the government agencies.

Additionally, iPhone and iPad users who rely on Face ID to access content or services on their devices will find a new, simplified process for logging in if they are wearing protective facemasks that interfere with the face-scanning technology, as previously reported.

Users of all supported devices will now be able to change Group FaceTime call settings so that, if a participant is speaking at a given moment, they will no longer cause video tiles to automatically change size. iPhone users in the United States can now choose to share some health information stored on their phones automatically with emergency services when calling emergency services.

Below: Images of how the Exposure Notification API works on iOS and Android smartphones.

Finally, there are a few bug fixes in the mix. Both iPhones and iPads got a fix for “an issue in the share sheet where suggestions and actions may not load” and “an issue where users may see a black screen when trying to play streaming video from some websites,” according to the update notes. Additionally, iPadOS users are getting resolutions for various security issues, Apple says, “including some that could lead to unexpected memory corruption or stability issues with the Mail app.”

Apple also updated tvOS and the HomePod software to version 13.4.5 today (no major new features are listed), and it released iOS 12.4.7 for devices that are not supported by iOS 13. The company pushed out a minor watchOS update for the Apple Watch earlier this week; that update (watchOS 6.2.5) brought certain health-related notifications to users in Saudi Arabia, and it added new rainbow-colored Pride watch faces. Today also saw the seed of the fifth beta of macOS Catalina 10.15.5—an update for Macs that will likely reach the general public before too long.

Here are Apple’s update notes for iOS 13.5:

iOS 13.5 speeds up access to the passcode field on devices with Face ID when you are wearing a face mask and introduces the ‌Exposure Notification‌ API to support COVID-19 contact tracing apps from public health authorities. This update also introduces an option to control automatic prominence of video tiles on Group ‌FaceTime‌ calls and includes bug fixes and other improvements.

Face ID and Passcode

  • Simplified unlock process for devices with Face ID when you are wearing a face mask
  • Passcode field automatically presented after swiping up from the bottom of the Lock screen when you are wearing a face mask
  • Also works when authenticating with the App Store, Apple Books, Apple Pay, iTunes, and other apps that support signing in with Face ID

‌Exposure Notification‌

  • ‌Exposure Notification‌ API to support COVID-19 contact tracing apps from public health authorities

‌FaceTime‌

  • Option to control automatic prominence on Group ‌FaceTime‌ calls so video tiles do not change size when a participant speaks

Emergency Services

  • Option to automatically share health and other essential information from your Medical ID with emergency services when you place an emergency call (US only)

This update also includes bug fixes and other improvements.

  • Fixes an issue where users may see a black screen when trying to play streaming video from some websites
  • Addresses an issue in the share sheet where suggestions and actions may not load

And for iPadOS 13.5:

‌iPadOS‌ 13.5 speeds up access to the passcode field on devices with Face ID when you are wearing a face mask and introduces an option to control automatic prominence of video tiles on Group ‌FaceTime‌ calls. This update includes bug fixes and other improvements.

Face ID and Passcode

  • Simplified unlock process for devices with Face ID when you are wearing a face mask
  • Passcode field automatically presented after swiping up from the bottom of the Lock screen when you are wearing a face mask
  • Also works when authenticating with the ‌App Store‌, Apple Books, ‌Apple Pay‌, iTunes, and other apps that support signing in with Face ID

FaceTime‌

  • Option to control automatic prominence on Group ‌FaceTime‌ calls so video tiles do not change size when a participant speaks

This update also includes bug fixes and other improvements.

  • Fixes an issue where users may see a black screen when trying to play streaming video from some websites
  • Addresses an issue in the share sheet where suggestions and actions may not load
  • Resolves security issues, including some that could lead to unexpected memory corruption or stability issues with the Mail app

Dan Goodin contributed to this report.

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