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Apple Tailors iOS 13.5 and iPadOS 13.5 to a COVID-19 World

A screenshot of iOS 13.5 release notesApple has released iOS 13.5 and iPadOS 13.5, adding features and tweaks to adapt your iPhone and iPad to a world in the grip of the global COVID-19 pandemic. You can install the updates, weighing in at 420.5 MB on the iPhone 11 Pro and 284.9 MB on the 10.5-inch iPad Pro, from  General > Software Update, using the Finder in macOS 10.15 Catalina, or using iTunes in earlier versions of macOS.

Exposure Notification API

The biggest and perhaps most controversial change is the deployment of a COVID-19 Exposure Notification API developed in partnership with Google (see “Apple and Google Partner for Privacy-Preserving COVID-19 Contact Tracing and Notification,” 10 April 2020). The API will enable developers from public health authorities to create iPhone apps that can warn you of potential exposure to infected people and potentially help authorities trace COVID-19. Some are concerned about the potential privacy implications, but as former Apple engineer David Shayer explained in “Former Apple Engineer: Here’s Why I Trust Apple’s COVID-19 Notification Proposal” (11 May 2020), there are robust privacy protections in place. So many, in fact, that some health officials worry that the API won’t be useful. There’s no way of knowing until we see actual apps using it, although Howard Oakley has posted some thoughts about the UK’s COVID-19 app, which does not use the Apple/Google API.

Face ID and Face Masks

Another COVID-19 related change is a tweak to make Face ID a bit less of a bother if you’re wearing a mask. While you’ve always been able to enter your passcode if Face ID fails, it was slow and took multiple failures.

In iOS 13.5 and iPadOS 13.5, you can now swipe up from the bottom of the screen to enter your passcode right away.

Medical ID Sharing

This change may be connected to the pandemic, but it should be more generally useful as well. You can now share your Medical ID with emergency services when you place an emergency call, albeit only in the US.

Sorry, we’re not testing this one, but if you have an opportunity that won’t hamper the 911 system, let us know how it goes. You set up your Medical ID on an iPhone in Settings > Health > Medical ID, where you store basic health details about yourself, your emergency contacts, medications, allergies, and other things of that nature (see “Double-Check Your iPhone’s Medical ID Emergency Contacts,” 18 February 2020).

Group FaceTime Settles Down

Our favorite change is a new setting to prevent Group FaceTime windows from changing size and moving around the screen as different people speak. In our testing, that was the worst thing about Group FaceTime calls. It’s disorienting at best and, at worst, nausea-inducing. Apple should have provided an option from the start, but the soaring popularity of video conferencing in the wake of the pandemic finally spurred the company to fix this egregious design mistake. In Settings > FaceTime > Automatic Prominence, disable the Speaking option. Once that’s done, the speaker’s tile in FaceTime subtly comes to the front but does not otherwise move or change size.

A screenshot of the TidBITS crew in a Group FaceTime call
In this Group FaceTime call in iOS 13.5, Josh Centers (on the left) is speaking, so his tile is frontmost, overlapping Jeff Carlson (in the middle). Since Jeff had spoken just before Josh, his tile overlaps that of Julio Ojeda-Zapata (on the right).

Bug Fixes and Recommendations

Finally, iOS 13.5 and iPadOS 13.5 include a couple of bug fixes: one to prevent black screens when watching streaming video from some Web sites and another to make sure share sheet suggestions load. They also sport security fixes, but as with watchOS 6.2.5 from earlier this week (see “watchOS 6.2.5 Brings ECG and Irregular Heart Rhythm Notifications to Saudi Arabia,” 18 May 2020) and tvOS 13.4.5, also released today, Apple hasn’t yet published the details. We anticipate a macOS security update in the next few days, after which details should become available.

Typically, we recommend a bit more caution with iOS upgrades, but if you’re being frustrated by Face ID failures due to wearing a mask regularly, it’s worth upgrading soon. Similarly, the new Group FaceTime setting is a big improvement for anyone who often participates in Group FaceTime calls and hates the tile bouncing as much as we do. If neither of those applies to you, give it a few days and then upgrade.

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Comments About Apple Tailors iOS 13.5 and iPadOS 13.5 to a COVID-19 World

Notable Replies

  1. In case you don’t upgrade immediately, there is a work-around to force you to enter a passcode before Face ID times out:

    Tap the “Face ID” text in the center of the screen; the passcode entry screen will appear immediately. Obviously, you can use this in other cases where you know Face ID will fail.

  2. Is there any such shortcut for TouchID? My wife noticed that when she had to use Apple Pay while wearing gloves she had to wait for it to time out until she was presented with a passcode option. Any way to get straight to that passcode option?

  3. On my TouchID iPhone, when I press the home button a second time the passcode screen pops up immediately.

    On my TouchID iPad pressing the home button a second time does nothing, however, swiping up from the bottom pops up the passcode screen (the same gesture pops up the widgets on the iPhone).

    Not very consistent, but there are shortcuts for TouchID devices apparently.

  4. So pressing the home button doesn’t abort payment and take you to the home screen? Is this only as of 13.5?

  5. It is unfortunate that FaceTime with multiple people doesn’t work with iOS 12

  6. What device are you using with iOS 12? Most iOS 12 devices should be able to go to iOS 13, and there’s very little reason not to upgrade, particularly if you’re missing out on something like Group FaceTime.

  7. I believe it is an original iPad air. It doesn’t seem to accept iOS 13. “planned obsolence?”

  8. I’ve never had any TouchID issue with Apple Pay, so I don’t know how that would work with the second press.

    I know about the second press because I once noticed, somewhat by accident, a second press popped up the passcode screen when I had a wet finger (which apparently causes TouchID to fail). Discovered that a second press pops up the passcode screen every time on my iPhone, which is a 6 running 12.something.

    Please note that a second press is different from a double press, which pops up Apple Pay on my iPhone. Second press is a slow press after the first press (so press, release, press again), double press is two quick presses. Also, second press only seems to work when TouchID fails.

  9. Ah well. No, it’s not planned obsolescence—Apple generally does a good job with supporting old hardware. But the iPad Air dates to 2013, so it’s nearly 7 years old. It likely lacks sufficient hardware resources to support iOS 13. Group FaceTime likely wouldn’t be able to work on anyway because of the hardware requirements.

  10. According to Apple, these are the requirements for Group FaceTime: “To use Group FaceTime video calls, you need iOS 12.1.4 or later, or iPadOS on one of these devices: iPhone 6s or later, iPad Pro or later, iPad Air 2 or later, iPad mini 4 or later, iPad (5th generation) or later, or iPod touch (7th generation). Earlier models of iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch that support iOS 12.1.4 can join Group FaceTime calls as audio participants.” (Source: https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT209022)

    If I interpret that correctly, you should be able to join a Group FaceTime call audio only, IF your iPad air supports iOS 12.1.4 (or later).

    Edit: The original Air should be able to run 12 (source: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/IPad_Air)

  11. That is correct, but that defeats the purpose of having three way video.

  12. True, but if that is a strong requirement for you, the only solution is buying a new iPad that complies with the required specifications.

  13. Thanks, @frans. I’ll tell her to try it out.

  14. How can one find the authorized COVID-19 Exposure Notification app that is usable in my particular area? Without such an app you can not even turn on exposure logging. As I understand it you need the app that has been released by your local health department.

    Probably no apps have been released yet, but when they are how do you find the one from your local health department? Needs to be a web site that allows you to enter your zip code and points you to the app.

  15. Can that exposure app “feature” be deleted or disabled? It looks like it was designed to violate a person’s privacy.

  16. Yesterday I wanted to separate my wife’s iPhone SE (original SE) running iOS13.5 from my ID and I started to create an ID for her. After putting incredentials the phone went to update Apple iCloud services and it just got stuck there with a grinding wheel. I shut the phone down but after a half an hour it was still there. I called Apple support, the person called a senior technician and we tried a lot of things. Turning wifi off and the on. Nothing worked but she told me a small number of phones are presenting this problem, they are aware of it. It came with the latest update to 13.5 and it should be resolved " in a few days"

  17. Just don’t enable it.

  18. It’s opt-in and requires an app from a public health entity in order to enable. You can check for yourself at settings / privacy / health. It will he turned off. And, FWIW, it was designed specifically not to violate privacy, but don’t use it if you don’t trust it.

  19. AFAIK, there are none yet. Probably will come from your local public health office.

  20. i take it you haven’t read the article or been following this discussion. It’s specifically designed not to violate your privacy. You have to install an app before it can be enabled or do anything at all. Then, if you are infected, you have to tell the app that, allowing you to opt-in to allowing notification. And if you are not infected it will simply notify you that you were within contact distance of a self-reported infected person for an extended period. Nobody else but you will know this. Where is there a privacy issue?

  21. Al, Doug, and Mark:

    Yes I’d read earlier items on this topic including the promise of it NOT invading privacy, and being OPT-IN; now Apple has apparently installed it in the iOS itself which to me seems to negate the opt-in promise. If I install the iOS update then I’ll be installing the tracker which appears to be an automatic “opt-in”. As I understand it, the “local” apps will just be a way to set WHERE the notifications are sent, so will there be an iOS setting that will have to be selected to “opt-in” (activate) the tracker so the local apps can use it to be notified?

  22. I have installed IOS 10.13.5 on my iPhone. In Setting->Privacy->Health, the top entry reads “COVID-19 Exposure Logging” with the text explaining general how it works via the exchange of random IDs and concluding with the statement “Exposure Logging cannot access any data in, or add any data to the Health app.”

    If you tap the arrow for the entry, you get a screen with several items:

    The first is a toggle labeled ‘Exposure Logging’ with a longer explanation of the process under it. It is greyed out if there is no authorized app installed that can use the logging. At present, I believe no such apps are in the App Store.

    The Next item is titled ‘Active App’ and would list the app if installed.

    The next item is labeled ‘Exposure Checks’ . Tapping the arrow forces user verification (Face ID on my iPhone) and appears to attempt to check the last 14 days of exposure log data (mine is obviously empty at this time).

    The final item is labelled ‘Delete Exposure Log’ and is greyed out for me since no log yet exists.

    So, upgrading your iPhone to 10.13.5 does not actually cause any data related to Covid-19 tracking to be stored. It only enables a future opt-in on your part to a restricted app.

  23. No, it only installed the API which is disabled and cannot be enabled until an app is available and downloaded. We can only guess about those apps until one becomes approved by Apple and loaded into the App Store, but according to everything we’ve read, there won’t be any “tracking” involved and no notifications or other information will leave your phone. Exposures will simply be logged and possible the user will get a notification at the time. An infected user must also opt-in to registering with the app as such.

  24. To clarify, Apple has just added the programmer interface calls to the OS so that developers can create apps that make use of the secure tracing. Nothing can come or go from your device until you install some newly created app (possibly specific to your area). I don’t think any such apps exist yet.

  25. Apple is actually the industry leader in supporting older hardware with software upgrades. But in order to stay competitive and sell new devices, Apple needs to upgrade its software with new features, and new features often require new equipment to run.

    Compare this to the uncountable flavors of Android out there. Every time Google updates Android, Samsung, LG, Lenovo, etc., who each have so many different models, older models quickly loose support. That’s why you read stuff like this in the Android focused press:

    The iPhone SE’s major win over cheap Android phones isn’t hardware — it’s software updates

  26. Ah, OK, Al & Dana. Thanks for clearing it up for me. So what Apple installed will actually prevent these apps from tracking a person then? And it will be up to each state to create an app to use?

  27. I’ve been watching this closely and there have been no reports of any apps being available from the App Store at this time. Only Apple knows if any have been submitted to them.

    But again, those apps are not supposed to be for “secure tracing” only encounter logging. As soon as those apps become available, they will be widely tested to see if Apple allowed any information other than that the user has opted-in to reporting their infection to others they encounter.

    Repeating for the umpteenth time here, this is not supposed to be a contact tracing capability.

  28. It was reported that 22 countries and some number of states received beta software necessary to develop an implementing app. I would expect a variety of these apps to be made available at country, state and local/county levels, tailored to their needs. The apps are expected to first ask a number of health related questions before allowing the user to opt-into either reporting their infection or logging encounters. It is not expected that those apps ever be allowed to upload that information to health related servers, at least not without user permission.

  29. For many reasons, Steve Gibson today stated he expects the tracing API and apps to fail. Show notes:

    (See last page or so. Also see actual podcast)

  30. Yes, if they use the API, they cannot get any other data. Supposedly would be confirmed via code review before allowing in the App Store.

  31. The first app was released in Switzerland yesterday, I believe a pilot test with a small group to start.

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