Apple releases iOS 13.5 beta with first version of its COVID19 exposure notification API

Apple has released a new beta of iOS 13.5 today, containing the first version of its exposure notification API for COVID-19 contact tracing. The beta is available to developers now alongside the first beta release of Xcode 11.5. The Xcode release includes an updated version of the iOS SDK that incorporates the exposure notification API.

In conjunction with this, Apple and Google representatives say that they are also releasing the first seeds of the exposure notification API to public health authority developers. The goal, the companies say, is to collect feedback from those developers on how to improve the API ahead of its release in mid-May.

Apple is referring to this iOS release as beta 3 of iOS 13.5, following two developer beta releases of iOS 13.4.5. This is because any revision of iOS that uses a new SDK must have its minor version number changed, hence the jump from iOS 13.4.5 to iOS 13.5.

Meanwhile, Google has also released a new beta of its Google Play Services with the exposure notification API and an accompanying SDK to select developers. You can read more about that at 9to5Google.

On Friday, May 1, Apple and Google representatives say both companies will release additional information to developers. This will include sample code to help developers further understand how the exposure notification system will work.

As we’ve explained in the past, Apple is not releasing the exposure notification API to all developers, but rather only to public health authorities. More such developers will also be added to the beta thought the testing process, the companies say.

As a refresher, here’s how Apple’s exposure notification API works. When two people are in close range, with proximity detected by Bluetooth, their phones will exchange anonymous identifiers. If an individual gets diagnosed with COVID-19, they can have their device transmit a list of everybody they’ve been in contact with to the cloud.

The second person’s phone will periodically download a list of everyone that has tested positive in their area. If a match occurs, they will be notified and prompted to contact health authorities.

Later this year, iOS and Android will receive updates to let users opt into exposure notification without installing an app. As of right now, this exposure notification API will allow public health authorities to develop their own contact tracing applications with privacy and battery life concerns in mind.

Apple and Google say that they have already received feedback from public health authorities and have made changes to the API in response. For example, today’s update allows developers to define and calculate an exposure risk level to show to users. This will allow authorities to make more specific information about the exposure available, such as distance and duration.

Apple is publishing details, with revision history, on the exposure notification framework on its website here.

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