Over the last year, as the COVID-19 pandemic has spread around the world, Apple has found itself contributing to attempts to curtail it in a variety of ways. For instance, it has made charitable donations and helped produced protective equipment for healthcare workers.
Apple’s Work COVID-19 Contact Tracing
Perhaps though the most notable part of Apple’s response is its collaboration with Google on contact tracing technology. There are various elements to Apple’s work on symptom tracking and contact tracing. They can all seem to be basically the same thing, but they are very distinct tools. iOS 13.5 introduced Exposure Logging, which allows users to sync up with supported COVID-19 contact tracing apps issued by health authorities. Apple’s exposure logging feature does not, in itself, do the contact tracing. It is the framework on which those authorities can build. As the official support website explains:
Exposure Notification API to support COVID-19 contact tracing apps from public health authorities.
Some countries are using this API and the decentralized approach it brings. Others have chosen not to.
The Next Step
When the API now available and some apps started to appear, attention turned to the next stage. When making their original announcement, Apple and Google said that “Bluetooth-based contact tracing platform by building this functionality into the underlying platforms.”
In September 2020, with the release of iOS 13.7, this happened. COVID-19 exposure notifications now work at the operating system level. This means that health authorities do not need to produce an app, they can just send alerts. It makes getting some kind of digital contact tracing simpler, whilst upholding Apple’s commitment to privacy.
There were adjustments for those with older devices too. Apple released iOS 12.5.1 to fix COVID-19 Exposure Notifications on the iPhone 5s, 6, and 6 Plus.
Apple Supporting COVID-19 Research
In the U.S. there is a COVID-19 app for iOS and it now includes a Symptom Tracking feature. Developed in association with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the tool anonymously collects data to help researchers get a better understanding of COVID-19. Again, this should not be confused for contact tracing (or, indeed, medical advice). Furthermore, Apple made mobility data available, showing how people are traveling (or not) in the midst of lockdowns/stay-at-home orders.
Donating Money and Equipment,
Apple awarded $10 million from its Advanced Manufacturing Fund to COPAN Diagnostics. The company initially designed, tested, and distributed almost 10 million face shields and sourced over 30 million face masks for healthcare professionals. In February 2021, it was revealed that Apple and COPAN staff had combined to increase COVID-19 test production. the teams opened a brand-new facility and medical supply chain, with 15 million sample collection kits shipped across the U.S.
Contributions have also gone beyond the U.S. Apple donated PPE to Zambia to help the country’s health ministry fight both COVID-19 and HIV. Furthermore, until June 30, 2021, 100 percent of eligible proceeds from (PRODUCT)RED purchases will go to the Global Fund’s COVID-19 Response.
[Updated: March 3, 2021, to incorporate more recent announcements and developments.]