The Next iPhone Software Has A Brilliant Feature We Need Right Now

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Apple 11 Pro Max with Face ID

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May 3 update below. This post was originally published on April 30, 2020.

The next Apple software release looks like being iOS 13.5. Previously, fellow Forbes writer Anthony Karcz unveiled the update and gave us a useful rundown of all that’s new, which you can read here.

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Until it was revealed, by the way, we thought it was going to be called iOS 13.4.5, but because of an update to the iOS software developer kit, with the important addition of the API (application programming interface) for tracing contacts exposed to COVID-19, it was renumbered iOS 13.5. There are a range of new features, which in itself is rare at this stage in the iOS cycle, and the contact-tracing is easily the most important. But another one also stands out: the improvement to Face ID in the wake of an increasing number of people wearing face masks.

May 3 update: Apple and Google are expected to show sample apps for exposure notification as early as next week, made possible thanks to the API found in this iOS 13.5 update.

That’s according to CNBC in a report which also reveals the latest from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). CNBC says the new CDC document leaves the door open to the Apple/Google project.  

The CDC has issued a new document which specifies how digital contact tracing apps should work, with minimum and preferred criteria. The Apple and Google exposure notification system, part of the API in this iOS update, as mentioned below, aligns pretty well with CDC requirements, meaning it’s likely that a lot of local health authorities will want to adopt it.

After all, although Apple and Google’s system does a lot of the heavy lifting that is helpful for creating an app, health authorities can go their own ways as well. For instance, the British National Health Service is making clear that it has plans for a different model for its forthcoming contact-tracing app. The British cyber-security centre, GCHQ has also been involved in creating the British app. It will use Bluetooth transmissions, just as the Apple and Google set-up does, but a big difference is the U.K. app will use a centralized model, so matching contacts who have been exposed to COVID-19 will be done from a central server.

The API in the 13.5 update uses a model which is decentralized, so matches take place between the handsets of the users concerned. It certainly seems the case that the Apple/Google model is better-protected against hackers or governments tracking individual users, so better for privacy. But the National Health Service believes its approach will mean much better tracking of the spread of Coronavirus, which in turn can inform how the app should evolve. It has the advantage that it can more easily give notifications just to those who are most at risk of having been infected, epidemiologist Professor Christophe Fraser told the B.B.C.

To be clear, the new advice from the CDC does accept that a centralized system is acceptable as well, but that the preference is for decentralized. Stay tuned for more details on the first apps made possible with the new API, and for the public release of iOS 13.5 in coming weeks or even days.

Back to why the new software is needed so urgently.

Setting up Face ID on the iPhone.

Setting up Face ID on the iPhone.

David Phelan

Face ID

As Anthony touched on briefly, Face ID has been upgraded so that it’s easier to use when you’re wearing a face mask.

If you’ve been wearing a face mask, you’ll know how annoying it is to have to pull the mask down when you’re paying at the register.

It’s not impossible to make Face ID work with a face mask now, but it’s a bit fiddly as it requires you training Face ID to recognize you with the mask on as an alternate option to one with the face mask off.

And even then, it may not work.

Now, though, Apple has come up with a simple but clever fix which, it’s important to note, doesn’t make Face ID any less secure than it is now. No surprise there, Face ID stands out among facial recognition systems across all portable devices, so Apple isn’t going to sacrifice that security level for anyone.

Apple has stressed that this new system retains the one million to one chance of a random person in the population being able to spoof your iPhone into thinking they are you.

Here’s how the new feature works.

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Normally, when you double-press the side button to launch Face ID, the iPhone scans your face and if it doesn’t recognize you, shows the passcode field. But it takes a few seconds for this to happen which, with the line behind you (standing six feet apart, of course) may be getting impatient.

With iOS 13.5, the moment Face ID is invoked and the iPhone recognizes that there’s a face mask in play, it automatically presents the passcode field, instantaneously. No waiting needed for the crowd in line behind you.

This will work for unlocking the iPhone, authenticating an App Store purchase, buying an Apple Books title, Apple Pay, of course, and iTunes.

Crucially it will also work with all other apps where signing in with Face ID is supported.

It’s hard to imagine a more timely update. Most urgently, iOS 13.5 features the API for exposure notification, for COVID-19 contact tracing devised by Apple and Google in an unprecedented collaboration.

So, the next update really can’t come soon enough. If you can’t wait, you can always join the public beta, but my guess is that it will be with us very soon.

Please check back as I’ll be covering iOS 13.5 in full detail as soon as it appears.

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