Apple releases iOS 13.5 with COVID-19 contact tracing feature, Face ID improvements

Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

Apple on Wednesday released iOS 13.5 and iPadOS 13.5. The update includes bug fixes, improvements, and, perhaps most notably, changes to how Face ID works when iPhone owners are wearing a face mask, along with the COVID-19 contact tracing feature. 

The update is available right now. You can install it by opening the Settings app and going to General > Software Update and following the prompts. 

Once installed, Face ID will immediately display your PIN code prompt after it fails to recognize your face. Previously, Face ID would try to recognize your face multiple times before prompting for your PIN code. The change is welcomed, especially for those who are wearing face masks while in public — something that causes Face ID to fail. 

Apple also included a new COVID Exposure Notification feature in iOS 13.5 on the iPhone. The feature is part of Apple and Google’s previously announced partnership that enables a contact tracing API for health officials to build apps and use to fight the spread of COVID-19. 

It provides an anonymous way to alert others you’ve come in contact with over the last 14 days should you contract COVID-19 and test positive, as well as a means for you to be alerted if someone you’ve been in contact with has tested positive. We have a complete breakdown of how the feature works and attempts to maintain anonymity. 

The feature is found in Settings > Privacy > Health > COVID-19 Exposure Logging. Until you install an approved app from a public health authority the feature will remain turned off. We’re unaware of any apps that work with the API at the moment, but now that the update is out, we expect that to change.

Once we begin to see approved contact tracing apps available do you plan on installing and using them? Or are you worried about privacy implications? Let us know in the comments below. 

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