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iOS 13.5 could be Apple’s most important iPhone update ever

Apple has launched a developer beta for iOS 13.5, which brings access to the Exposure Notification API built to provide coronavirus contact-tracing infrastructure.

Developers of contact-tracing applications around the world will now be able to start testing their tools on Apple and Google’s jointly built platform, via the Xcode 11.5 release that comes alongside today’s beta.

Google is also sending an SDK for select developers from today, via a Google Play update, enabling work to begin on the apps seen as a critical part of potentially relaxing lockdown measures.

The idea is to slow the spread of Covid-19 by alerting people who’ve been exposed to a person testing positive for the virus.

The platform is anonymous and requires the person testing positive to confirm the diagnosis. From there the app will automatically alert people who’ve been in close proximity via Bluetooth data from both party’s mobile phones. From there, the app can adviee those notified to quarantine themselves for the next two weeks.

The Bluetooth keys required to identify the devices will be randomly generated every day, which should ensure no-one is individually identifiable by the signature emitted by their smartphone.

Related: Apple and Google won’t power NHS app

Apple and Google have vowed to keep the information private by ensuring it remains decentralised, existing only on the devices. It’s one of the reason’s the UK National Health Service has rejected the proposals in favour of a platform it has built itself.

It wants data to be centralised to ensure it can be crossed referenced with other data, despite some very obvious privacy concerns with that strategy.

Apple and Google says it will launch more developer tools before the end of the week, but overall this is a massive step towards launching the Exposure Notification services (Apple and Google don’t like the term contact tracing) and hopefully a big part of ending the quarantines when it’s considered safe to do so.

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