The software is designed to help contain the spread of Covid-19 by alerting users whenever they’ve been in close contact with someone who later tests positive for the virus. Until now, the UK Track and Trace system has relied on people handing over their contact information, including name and mobile number, when booking tables in restaurants, taking part in gym classes, or ordering in their local pub.
With the app installed, smartphone owners will be automatically sent a notification and issued with further guidance if they’ve been in the same venue, public transport, or in close proximity outside, without someone who tested positive for the infection.
NHS COVID-19, which is available to people in England and Wales (with separate apps for Scotland and Northern Ireland), will send you a message whenever you’ve been close to someone who has tested positive. When that happens, the NHS will employ a “risk-assessment” algorithm to determine the likelihood that you might’ve contracted the coronavirus. If the system doesn’t think it’s likely – maybe they were stood on a train platform while you were inside the carriage of a train that pulled-up at the station – you won’t receive any further notifications from the app. If there’s good reason to believe you might have Covid-19, the app will tell you to self-isolate.
Since the NHS app leverages the privacy-focused system created by Apple and Google to do this, it’s not compatible with every phone.
In order to preserve users’ privacy and ensure their every movement isn’t being logged by a government database, not to mention making sure everyone’s smartphone battery life doesn’t deplete in a matter of hours due to the constant Bluetooth connections keeping tabs on our contacts – Apple and Google aren’t able to support every single version of their operating systems.
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Apple only supports the Exposure Notification feature on smartphones running iOS 13.5 or newer.
Given that iOS 13.5 only rolled out a few months ago, it might seem that the Cupertino-based company is being pretty limited in scope. However, Apple keeps its smartphone up-to-date with the latest operating system for much longer than rival manufacturers.
While Samsung, Sony and Google recently promised to keep their priciest handsets updated with the latest software for three years after it launches, Apple ensures its latest operating system updates are available to much older kit.
For example, iPhone 6S, which first launched in September 25, 2015, is compatible with the latest version of iOS, iOS 14, which launched last week and as a result can run the NHS COVID-19 app without any issue.
Anyone with an iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus or older – like anything from the iPhone 4 or iPhone 5 range – won’t even be able to download NHS COVID-19 from the App Store on their smartphone, let alone find out whether they’ve shared personal space with someone who subsequently tested positive.
On the Android side of things, you’ll need to have Android 6.0, more commonly known as Android Marshmallow, running on your smartphone to get your hands on the contact tracing app.
Since Android manufacturers don’t tend to bring the latest version of the Android operating system to older handsets in the same way that Apple can (since it has far, far fewer device models to support), that still limits quite a few phone owners looking to get their hands on the app.
According to the most up-to-date statistics provided by Google, roughly 84.9 percent of Android smartphones worldwide are running Android 6.0 Marshmallow or more recent. For comparison, 92.39 percent of iPhone owners are running iOS 13 or older. Since any iPhone model that can run iOS 13 is able to instal iOS 13.5 or iOS 14 – these will all be compatible with the NHS COVID-19 app.
If you’re unsure of what operating system you’re running on your Android device, you’ll need to head to the Settings menu, scrolling down to find the option marked About Phone or About Device (it varies depending on the manufacturer). Tap on that and your operating system version will be displayed.
If you’re unable to install the app, you’ll have to rely on the existing hand-your-name-and-number-over-to-the-venue tracking system. Or upgrade to a new contract.
And if you’ve bought a new Huawei smartphone, you’re going to struggle too.
That’s because of a trade ban implementing against Huawei by President Donald J Trump that prevents US businesses from working with the Chinese conglomerate. As such, Google is unable to work with Huawei – leaving smartphones from the manufacturer without access to the Google Play Store (which you’ll have to use to download the NHS app), Google Maps, Gmail and other services.
Huawei has launched its own app repository, known as the App Gallery, but it doesn’t have the same level of support as Google’s more established Play Store. If you have a Huawei P40, Huawei P40 Pro, Huawei Mate 30, Huawei Mate Xs or Honor 30 …you’re currently unable to download the app either.