Apple released iOS 13.7 on Tuesday, adding support for a new exposure notification system to power COVID-19 tracking. The system is an extension of existing coronavirus contact tracking efforts, but it removes the burden for states to build a dedicated app. News of the new software framework was first announced earlier today in a joint statement from Apple and Google.
This native support was expected, as announced when the exposure notification API – co-developed between Apple and Google – was unveiled in April. But at the time, we didn’t know exactly when it would arrive.
Here’s how it will work, from The edgeReport of the announcement:
Under the new system, participating health departments will compile a configuration file that allows them to set their risk scores, redirect users to their specific health department website, and change the recommendation for exposed users. Once the configuration is complete, iOS and Android can automatically generate the necessary software, although the two operating systems handle the task differently. In Android, the configuration file automatically generates a custom Android app, while iOS incorporates the settings into the OS-level contact system.
More generally, the OS powered contact tracking system is designed to notify someone when they may have been in contact with another person who was later diagnosed with COVID-19, mainly through a complex BLE Beacon protocol. Support for the protocol was first added to iOS in May with the release of iOS 13.5. But at the time, every state had to have an app developed by a public health authority using the API. Now states can easily provide Apple and Google with the necessary information and the automatically generated software framework will take care of the rest.
Apple and Google made it clear that existing apps, of which there are six, will continue to work, and that interoperability support between states is built into the new framework to enable status lines for contact tracing. The first official app to support the exposure notification system debuted in Virginia earlier in August. The University of Alabama in Birmingham has launched a closed pilot for an exposure reporting app last month too.
“As the next step in our work with public health authorities on exposure reporting, we are making it easier and faster for them to use the exposure reporting system without having to build and maintain an app,” Apple and Google said in a joint statement today . “Exposure Notifications Express provides public health authorities with another option to complement their existing contact discovery activities with technology without compromising the core principles of user privacy and security of the project. Existing apps using the Exposure Notification API are compatible with Exposure Notifications Express, and we are committed to supporting public health authorities that have deployed or are building custom apps. “
iOS 13.7 is now available for download.