What exactly does coronavirus tracking in iOS 13.5 do? Clearing up the confusion

iOS 13.5 dropped Wednesday, introducing a slew of upgrades — including, most notably, the API for Apple’s coronavirus contact-tracing tool, developed in conjunction with Google.

But, despite what you might hear online, this is neither an “app” or an update that means downloaders are being tracked without their knowledge. Let’s correct a few popular misconceptions.

An app or an API?

The contact tracing system developed by Apple and Google works by using Bluetooth “chirps” to register physical interactions between smartphone users, regardless of whether they are using an Android or iOS device. If a person discovers that they have been infected with coronavirus, they can opt to share this information. The system then notifies other smartphone users who’ve come into close proximity with them. The hope is that this system could help slow the spread of the disease by warning people of potential infections.

The important thing to note is that this new iOS 13.5 feature is not an app. It is an API, meaning that it’s a set of tools that developers can use for building apps. These apps will be built by governments, either on a state or national level. Google and Apple’s approach simply provides the groundwork to power these apps should authorities wish to adopt them. Not every country will. The UK, for instance, is supposedly developing its own. Their disagreement with Apple concerns a decentralized vs. centralized approach to contact tracing. In the U.S., three states have already committed to using Apple and Google’s API: Alabama, North Dakota and South Carolina.

That hasn’t stopped this from being reported as an Apple and Google app, though. The UK’s Guardian newspaper, for instance, today features a headline reading “Apple and Google: Companies release phone app to notify users of coronavirus exposure.” Seemingly having been clued in that this is inaccurate, the article now reads “Apple and Google release phone technology to notify users of coronavirus exposure” — although, at time of writing the home page reflected the old headline. Only clicking through to the article itself corrected the record.

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Bluetooth tracing is an anonymous way to assess exposure to COVID-19.
Photo: Apple/Google

No, iOS 13.5 is not tracking you

Apps that use the API developed by Google and Apple don’t — and can’t — track you. Instead they collect randomized tokens, exchanged via Bluetooth, that are not personally identifiable. The system can tell you if you encountered someone who tested positive. However, it does not track who or where that happened.

But there’s nonetheless plenty of concern about tracking. Late Wednesday, Juli Clover, editor at MacRumors tweeted out what appears to be a DM. It reads: “Hey, so I heard if you download the newest iOS you will be automatically tracked for [COVID-19]. I even googled it and I just want to know if it’s true. Says Google and Apple are working together for tracking the virus.”

(Perhaps needless to say, but the API developed by Apple and Google does not diagnose cases of COVID-19. While some researchers are developing tools which claim to spot symptoms based on coughs, that is not the case here.)

Fears about surveillance

A search of Twitter shows a number of other people freaking out over iOS 13.5. One Twitter user highlights the part of the release notes relating to contact tracing, and then writes: “What the actual hell?! I’m not a parcel to be tracked and traced.” Others raise similar concerns about Apple pushing users to download an iOS update that contains tracking tools.

 

Fears about surveillance are not to be dismissed. Plenty of very smart people have raised very valid concerns about how contact tracing could open the door to new types of surveillance.  However, when it comes to iOS 13.5, it should be stressed that tracking users is not something that happens just because you download an update.

The new API feature, which can be found by going to Settings > Privacy > Health > COVID-19 Exposure Logging, remains turned off until users install approved apps from public health authorities. As Apple and Google have stressed with their privacy focused approach, engagement in contact tracing is voluntary. Users are not being tracked without permission just because they have downloaded iOS 13.5.

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Tim Cook @tim_cook
 

Technology can help health officials rapidly tell someone they may have been exposed to COVID-19. Today the Exposure Notification API we created with @Google is available to help public health agencies make their COVID-19 apps effective while protecting user privacy.

2,190 people are talking about this

Representing contact tracing honestly

 

A lot of this confusion is understandable. A few months back, barely anyone was having to familiarize themselves with the different approaches to contact tracing or the the ethical dilemma posed by ventilators. The media isn’t infallible. The difference between an API and an app, for instance, isn’t immediately clear to a lot of people. But proper wording is crucial when it comes to a potential healthcare crisis.

In many cases, problems in technology emerge because companies are, either purposely or accidentally, vague about what they are doing. When Apple introduced a new battery throttling feature as part of iOS in 2017 it did so not as a sinister tactic to prompt upgrades, but rather to stop older lithium-ion batteries from unexpectedly shutting down. Unfortunately for Apple, it did this without properly making the public aware of what it was doing. It failed to articulate why this was necessary — and give users a way to stop it — and suffered a backlash as a result.

 

In this case, Apple and Google have been consistent with their messaging since the start. The problem frequently comes down to governments (particularly political point-scoring) and the media. But it shows why Apple and Google must be vigilant and continue to be as open and explanatory about the technology as they can.

It’s not yet clear whether contact tracing can and will work. But, in the interests of a well-informed public, voices with public platforms must make sure that they represent the tools available as best — and accurately — as they can.

Review: The 13-inch MacBook Pro with a 10th generation processor is the one to buy

The 2020 13-inch MacBook Pro with new tenth-generation Intel processors is a powerful machine for the pro on the go, and is an ideal mix of power and portability.

It’s not often that two products under the same umbrella vary so much that they need to be examined separately. But, the 13-inch MacBook Pro lineup for 2020 is that.

The differences, while profound, are not as pronounced as they have been previously. This year’s releases are closer in features than the 13-inch MacBook Pro with function keys and the model with Touch Bar, but the gap is profound.

We’ve already examined the entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro with eighth-generation Intel processors, and found it lacking. Fortunately, the model with the 10th generation processors is an entirely different story.

Low-end versus high-end MacBook Pro

After that first examination, we’re now looking at the 10th generation 2020 13-inch MacBook Pro, the higher of the two tiers. Where the lower tier has that eighth-generation processor and two Thunderbolt ports, the upper-tier has four Thunderbolt 3 ports in total, and better Intel Iris Plus graphics. Thanks to those better graphics, the upper-tier is capable of powering an external 6K display while the lower-tier is limited to only an external 5K display.

Aside from the aforementioned changes, the higher-end 13-inch MacBook Pro with 10th-generation Intel processors uses much faster 3733MHz LPDDR4 memory, starts at 16GB, and can be updated to 32GB. Internal storage can also be maxed out at 4TB.

Changes are on the inside

Distinguishing the 2020 MacBook Pro 13-inch from the 2019 with the naked eye is difficult. It looks the same as the last generation, and the generation before that. While some may want to wait another year for the 14-inch MacBook Pro to arrive, some users need to upgrade now — and this upgrade is a good one.

It has a gorgeous P3 wide color gamut Retina display, four Thunderbolt 3 ports split between the two sides instead of two on the lower-end 13-inch MacBook Pro, a headphone jack, the Touch Bar, and the still-unchanged 720p FaceTime camera which we’d really like Apple to replace with something better.

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Closeup of the MacBook Pro logo below the gorgeous Retina display

Another holdover includes 802.11ac Wi-Fi (or, Wi-Fi 5) rather than Wi-Fi 6. For the average user, this isn’t a big deal today, but there are implications for the future. Apple was quick on Wi-Fi 6 adoption on mobile devices but the same can’t be said for the Mac line. A Mac should last six years or more and while Wi-Fi 6 isn’t widely adopted now, it will be in a couple years.

About that keyboard… again

In case you missed it, or have skipped all coverage of it, Apple has updated the keyboard design. After several false starts, Apple’s kicked its butterfly switch mechanisms to the curb in favor of Apple’s latest version of a scissor-switch design.

We have spoken at some length on the updated Magic Keyboard again, and again. It still has a full millimeter of key travel. It still feels more responsive to type on and not all that different from the 16-inch MacBook Pro which also has Apple’s Magic Keyboard embedded into its aluminum body.

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Magic Keyboard on the 13-inch MacBook Pro (2020) has a scissor switch design, a physical escape key, and an inverted T design for the arrow keys

We truly do like the feel of the updated keyboard. While the extra key travel at times makes us feel like we are slightly slower than on the previous design that we’ve been hammering away on for nearly five years, it is an improvement. It isn’t enough to cause us to trip up while typing that often, and is enough to make the keys feel more responsive when depressed.

Aside from moving to the Magic Keyboard, other changes are also notable. Specifically, Apple has included a standalone physical escape key and also returned the inverted “T” design for the arrow keys. Depending on a user’s work, these may be more impactful than a shift from the previous-gen keyboard.

13-inch MacBook Pro with tenth generation Intel processor performance

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Geekbench scores for the 2019 and 2020 high-end MacBook Pro 13-inch

In terms of performance, our 13-inch MacBook Pro with the 2.3GHz quad-core Intel Core i7-1068NG7 garnered a 1311 and a 4862 in the Geekbench 5.1.1 single-and multi-core test. Graphics earned a 8408 in the Metal compute benchmark. The previous-gen, which relied on the Intel Iris Plus Graphics 645 of the eighth-generation chipset, scored a 7240 in the graphics benchmark.

The old 2.8GHz quad-core i7 which was the high-end processor configuration from the 2019 line only scored a 1076 and a 4038. That’s roughly a 25 percent gain in those single and multi-core tests.

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Cinebench R20 results for the 2020 MacBook Pro 13-inch high-end

Turning to Cinebench R20, we saw scores of 2071. Our entry-level model only scored a 1588 — another 25 percent gain here as well. While testing in Cinebench which does tax the processors, we did have the fans kick on partially through the test but according to Intel Power Gadget, it was easily able to maintain its advertised clock speed after dropping down from its turbo boosted speed.

Disk speeds were consistent, averaging just above 1250 megabytes per second for write speeds and 1600 megabytes per second for read speeds using the Blackmagic Disk Speed Test.

For comparison, the 16-inch MacBook Pro at just about any capacity will peak at 3150 megabytes per second read speeds, and about 2900 megabytes per second write speeds. The 2020 MacBook Air delivers about 1250 megabytes per second read, and 1000 megabytes per second write.

Should you buy the 2020 13-inch MacBook Pro with tenth generation Intel processors?

There is no doubt — you get more for your money with the 13-inch MacBook Pro with 10th generation Intel processors, and by a wide margin.

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The new 13-inch MacBook Pro

If you start with the lower-level 13-inch MacBook Pro and make some basic upgrades such as doubling the RAM to 16GB and the storage to 512GB it puts your total at $1,599. $200 shy of the high-end MacBook Pro that still has a faster processor.

Upgrade that processor too to the quad-core 1.7GHz i7 13-inch MacBook Pro and just like that you are at $1,899 — $100 more than the base high-end 13-inch Pro. Even though you are paying $100 more, you still have an eighth-generation Intel processor instead of a 10th-generation, two Thunderbolt 3 ports instead of four, slower DDR3 RAM, worse graphics, and have no support for external 6K displays.

Not to mention, the eighth-generation lacks higher-end options for RAM or storage.

It makes more sense to opt for the one of the higher-end 13-inch MacBook Pro models if you’re looking for power and capability. If you don’t need that power, skip the 13-inch MacBook Pro line altogether and buy the MacBook Air. The latter is a bit lighter, thinner, and still wonderfully capable.

The upper-tiered 13-inch MacBook Pro is a solid buy in Apple’s portable Mac lineup. Apple has made some good changes, and even though a rumored 14-inch revamp is upcoming, if you need a powerful Mac laptop now, with more portability than the 16-inch MacBook Pro, this is a great option.

Pros

  • Sleek, aluminum body
  • Great Retina display
  • Four Thunderbolt 3 ports
  • Updated Magic Keyboard
  • Faster 10th-gen Intel chips
  • Faster LPDDR4 RM
  • 6K display support
  • Support for 32GB RAM
  • Upgradable to 4TB storage

Cons

  • No 14-inch redesign
  • No dedicated graphics cards
  • 720p FaceTime camera is still poor quality

Source: https://appleinsider.com/articles/20/05/21/review-the-13-inch-macbook-pro-with-10th-generation-processors-is-the-one-to-buy 

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