iOS 13.5 brings Apple’s COVID-19 tools to the masses

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iOS 13.5 golden master is available only to developers.
iOS 13.5 makes it faster to unlock an iPhone while wearing a mask, as well as other features related to COVID-19.
Photo: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

All iPhone users can now install iOS 13.5. This includes the tools Apple and Google created to make COVID-19 contact-tracing applications. And this update brings a number of other new features focused on the current crisis.

Apple also released iPadOS 13.5, which incorporates many of the same features.

The official description for today’s iPhone update 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.”

The wording for iPadOS 13.5 is essentially identical.

iOS 13.5 is the COVID-19 update

As Apple mentioned, this update includes a neat trick that skips Face ID to immediately ask for a passcode if it detects the user is wearing a mask. It doesn’t make signing into the handset easier, but the process is faster.

And there’s a tweak to FaceTime, Apple’s video-chat app many people are using to get through self quarantining. With iPadOS 13.5 and the iPhone equivalent, the tile showing the face of the person speaking in this video chat app doesn’t have to expand, pushing aside other participants.

But the feature that’s drawn the most attention is the API for a coronavirus contact-tracing tool that Apple developed in cooperation with Google. 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 notifies other smartphone users who’ve come into close proximity with them. The opt-in system could help slow the spread of the disease by warning people of potential infections.

To be clear, iOS 13.5 doesn’t come with a contract-tracing app, just the tools developers need to build one. As Apple CEO Tim Cook said on Twitter, “the Exposure Notification API we created with @Google is available to help public health agencies make their COVID-19 apps effective while protecting user privacy.”

Update your iPhone or iPad now

Apple made iOS 13.5 and the iPadOS equivalent available for all to download. To install the new software on a handset or tablet, open the Settings application, then go to General > Software Updates. Or connect the computer to a Mac running iTunes.