Apple 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.
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.