Apple, Google release Covid-19 contact tracing tools to app developers

Developers can now start building apps ahead of the system’s launch in mid-May

The tool set is a combination of software updates for iOS and Android, and software development kits to help developers build and test their apps
The tool set is a combination of software updates for iOS and Android, and software development kits to help developers build and test their apps (Apple)

Apple and Google released the first versions of their Covid-19 contact-tracing tools to public health organizations on Wednesday so the agencies can start building applications ahead of the system's launch in mid-May.

The tool set is a combination of software updates for iOS and Android, and software development kits to help developers build and test their apps. Apple released an early beta version of its software update that incorporates the technology, iOS 13.5, while Google is rolling out an update via its Google Play app store.

The first phase of the system will let health agencies build apps that allow a person who tests positive for Covid-19 to input their diagnosis. The system will then use Bluetooth technology to learn who the person has come into contact with and then notify those people of a possible exposure.

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Apple released Xcode 11.5, a new version of its software development kit on Wednesday, while Google is providing an update of its SDK to select developers.

The companies also said that on Friday they will release sample code to help developers understand how the exposure-notification system will work, along with more information on which types of apps will be allowed.

A second phase of the project, to be released in the coming months, will have deeper integration with Apple's iOS and Google's Android operating systems to rely less on apps. Still, the first version of the program will require a software update for iPhones and a download from the Google Play store for Android phones.

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Last week, the companies increased privacy protections for the system, adding more encryption and limiting the possible recorded exposure time for alerts to 30 minutes. Each public health app will determine when people have been exposed to Covid-19 by setting their own distance and exposure times. On Wednesday, the companies also said that public health apps would be able to define the messaging in their notifications to users.

The software supports all iPhones running iOS 13, covering devices released in the past four years. The system requires Android 6, which runs on about 2 billion devices.