It was only last week that Apple and Google announced their partnership on developing a contact tracing system that would make use of Bluetooth on Android phones and iPhones. The move was aimed at helping government and health institutions around the world to combat the spread of COVID-19 more effectively. Today, Google has confirmed that it will make use of Google Play Services infrastructure to update Android smartphones running Marshmallow 6.0 or above with the contact tracing system.
When the partnership was initially announced, there were a few questions raised against how Google could push an update to more than a billion active Android smartphones that were not only made by different manufacturers, but also differed in terms of the Android version and the UI overlay. Pushing out full system updates, in this case, would not be as efficient as carrier and manufacture delays would reduce the impact of the novel system.
But choosing to push out the update via Google Play will ensure that all smartphones, running Marshmallow 6.0 and above (almost 85% of all active Android smartphones in the world), will get a timely update.
Unfortunately, since Google is choosing to push the update via Google Play, smartphones that don’t have or support GMS (Google Mobile Services) – Android phones in China and selected Huawei/Honor smartphones globally – will not be a beneficiary of this contact tracing system.
Although, for those phones, Google plans on publishing a framework that Chinese companies like Huawei, Xiaomi and OPPO could make use of to replicate the system that’s being developed by Apple and Google in conjunction.
For the uninitiated, the system tracing system will be delivered as an API and will be baked right into the operating system. Hence, there won’t be a need to download an independent application. Although, in order to enable it, users will have to manually opt-in for contact tracing, Once enabled, the system will make use of Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) to communicate with any Android and iOS device (that is running the system too) to make the user aware if they’ve come in proximity to an individual who has tested positive for COVID-19.
Apple & Google say that no personally identifiable information will be shared and the use of the API will only be limited to public health bodies
The first update – that will see the APIs built into the OS – is expected to arrive next month.