iOS 13.5 golden master means COVID-19 exposure notifications are almost here

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iOS 13.5 golden master is available only to developers.
The iOS 13.5 golden master gives developers an early look at a number of features related to COVID-19.
Photo: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

Starting Monday, iOS 13.5 golden master and the iPad equivalent are available for developers to test. The general public is likely to get access to them in a week or so.

This might be known as the COVID-19 update. It includes a number of new features, almost all focused on the current crisis. That includes the coronavirus contact-tracing tool Apple is developing in cooperation with Google.

“Golden master” is the term for the final version of a software update. Apple actually uses this term for the versions released today in its documentation for developers.

The official description reads, “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.”

iOS 13.5 golden master is full of medical-related tweaks

Built into iOS 13.5 is the API for a coronavirus contact-tracing tool. This enables Bluetooth “chirps” to anonymously track physical interactions between smartphone users, whether iOS or Android. If an individual finds out they are infected with COVID-19, the system would notify other smartphone users who had come into close proximity with them. The opt-in system could help slow the spread of the disease by warning people of potential infections.

This update also includes a neat trick that skips Face ID to immediately ask for a passcode if it detects the user is wearing a mask.

And, as Apple mentioned in its release notes, iOS 13.5 gives users the option to turn off a Group FaceTime feature some people find irritating. With this change, the tile showing the face of the person speaking in this video chat app doesn’t have to expand, pushing aside other participants.

Plus, this update makes it easier to share medical ID information during emergency calls.

Still for developers only

Although Apple isn’t calling Monday’s release a beta, it’s only available to paying members of Apple’s developer program.

In addition to the iOS 13.5 golden master, Apple also introduced iPadOS 13.5 golden master.