In a definitely unforeseen turn of events that not a single person could have possibly predicted, it turns out the Federal Government’s coronavirus tracking app, COVIDSafe, doesn’t actually work on iPhones unless the app is open literally all the time.
The app uses Bluetooth to keep track of everyone you’ve come into close contact with who also has the app. While on Android it can run in the background, iOS typically doesn’t allow apps to send out Bluetooth signals if they’re not open onscreen.
This means that if you answer the phone or scroll through Facebook on your iPhone, COVIDSafe won’t detect anyone around you and is basically useless.
“Unfortunately on the Apple version at the moment, because of the way it’s been designed, you actually have to have the app running it the foreground all the time when you want to use it,” Guardian Australia technology reporter Josh Taylor told ABC Radio National.
“This is the biggest flaw in the app.”
In order for the app to run properly, Federal Government officials have told iPhones users to “keep COVIDSafe running and notifications on when you’re out and about, especially in meetings and public places.”
But when out and about on pubic transport, almost everyone is browsing social media or listening to music.
Low-power mode and other apps running Bluetooth may also interfere with COVIDSafe’s functionality.
“It was a problem that was brought over from the Singapore model,” Taylor added.
COVIDSafe was modelled on Singapore’s TraceTogether app, which attracted criticism for not working on iPhones when the app was closed or the screen was locked.
The Australian Government is claiming to have ironed out some of the flaws found in the Singaporean app. But while COVIDSafe does work when an iPhone screen is locked, it still doesn’t work when other iOS apps are running.
Apple says it’s currently working with Google to allow coronavirus tracking apps to use Bluetooth in the background. However it may be some time yet before this is integrated into COVIDSafe.
In the meantime, people are expected to keep the app open whenever they leave the house.Image: Getty Images / James D. Morgan