Apple’s Exposure Notification System: Where are the apps?

Apple rolled out iOS 13.5 yesterday (can it already be 13.5? Feels like yesterday when it was this unnumbered thing called iPhoneOS – but I digress). A big part of this update was the public release of Apple’s Exposure Notification API.

First things first, here’s a helpful guide, from Juli Clover, MacRumors, that should clear up some of the mystery and misinformation floating around.

Apple and Google developed the underlying APIs and Bluetooth functionality, but they are not developing the apps that use those APIs. Instead, the technology is being incorporated into apps designed by public health authorities worldwide, which can use the tracking information to send notifications on exposure and follow up with recommended next steps.

And there’s the rub. When you head to Settings > Privacy > Health, you’ll see a toggle to turn on COVID-19 Exposure Logging. Chances are excellent you will not be able to turn that setting on.

The explainer says:

You cannot turn on Exposure Logging without an authorized app installed that can send Exposure Notifications.

A bit down that Settings page, you’ll see a section called ACTIVE APP which lists any Exposure Notification app you have installed.

On my iPhone (and I’m betting, yours too), there’s no app installed, and no clue as to how to go looking for one.

I get that this is early days for the API rollout, but I did find this confusing. Would have been helpful to have some language in there that acknowledged the lack of apps and a pointer to a place to go look for an app for your area as they get rolled out. Perhaps a button that does a search for your area, or a map overlay with status showing any app coverage.

To be clear, the lack of apps is understandable. It takes time to create an app. But releasing the consumer-sided face of the Exposure Notification System without any apps and without a clear message on app status is confusing.

That aside, read through Juli’s writeup for a sense of what this will look like with an app installed.

Also worth reading, Ben Lovejoy’s take on this, With hindsight, Apple and Google should have created contact tracing apps.