NHS admits contact tracing app won't work on older iPhones

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Trials of the UK's NHS coronavirus contact-tracing app reveal that users must have iOS 11 or later, and battery life is profoundly impacted by the feature.

Apple's iPhone 5S is the oldes model that can run the NHS app
Apple's iPhone 5S is the oldes model that can run the NHS app


Following the UK National Health Service's controversial choice to reject Apple and Google's coronavirus contact tracing technology in favor of its own, less private, system, test trials have revealed problems. Users testing the app on the UK's Isle of Wight report their batteries are being drained, and that it will not work at all on certain phones.

Geraint Lewis, development leader at the health service's technology group NHSX, has appeared on the local BBC Radio Solent station to explain the app and answer criticisms. The interview is no longer available on the station's catchup service, but according to the UK's Daily Mail, Lewis responded to many listeners' phone calls about the app not working.

"[One reason] why the app might not work on a particular smart phone," he said, "[is that] the development team has not got around to supporting that particular phone."

He also said that Apple iPhones require iOS 11 or later, and Android ones need version 8 or later. "So if you can update the operating system that should hopefully help," he added.

The oldest iPhone that can run iOS 11, and therefore the app, is the iPhone 5s in 2013. All Huawei phones are locked out because of Google forcing the company to stop using its Google Play Store.

From the NHS's video on how to use the app
From the NHS's video on how to use the app


However, Lewis suggested that the inability to run the app isn't a problem. "The system is there to protect the whole community," he said, "so if sufficient numbers of people download and use the app everyone will be protected regardless of whether they themselves have a phone that is compatible."

According to Lewis, the NHSX system relies on Bluetooth Low Energy, and older phones which do not have it, cannot use the app. He also said that because it uses BLE, it is not draining people's batteries.

Following a listener's complaint that it does, he asked people to send feedback to the NHSX as part of the trial. The trial continues and while no end date has been announced, the UK government says it expects to roll out the app nationwide in the coming weeks.

Recently, the NHS has reportedly been considering switching to the more private and efficient system from Apple and Google, though no official confirmation has yet been made.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 11
    Mr Lewis sounds like one of those dolt Project leaders that will push through in a bad idea to maintain his empire even though better concepts With fewer problems and better overall performance and compatibility are further advanced and are close at hand. 

    Drains batteries?  Of course not. 

    Doesn’t work on older phones?  Nbd those aren’t significant anyway. 

    Big thing seems to be folks should update their s/w. Apparently he hasn’t seen the high uptake rates of iOS 13, not to mention that 11, 12 and 13 combined cover near 100% of BLE iPhones already (5S and up). Since his s/w requires iOS 11 or later, he's essentially covered regardless of Update status. This also puts paid to his “haven’t got around to covering all phones yet”, but TBH this probably applies more to android than iOS. 

    It has been reported NHS has been studying adopting the Swiss tracking app. 

    Frankly any national app that don’t intercommunicate with other apps should be junked. That WHO, EU, CDC, etc haven’t worked on an Apple/Google-based global solution is frankly astounding, and pretty incompetent. 

    Today the Swiss government expanded its testing phase for its app to wring out the last of the bugs. Prior to this it was in small scale testing inside the Ranks of the Swiss Army. (TBH, the app will probably be ready for release before the Swiss Parliament gets a law in place to allow public roll out - at last word, such law was targeted for early June.)
    rossb2PetrolDavewatto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 11
    aderutteraderutter Posts: 618member
    There can’t be many iPhone 5 or earlier phones out there in use now.

    Choosing iOS 11 as the minimum target was probably a sensible choice to catch maximum devices. They might be able to lower it further but that might mean having to use deprecated code - a line has to be drawn somewhere and I think iOS 11 is a good line in the sand right now.

    i think the much bigger problem will be requiring Android 8 or later...

    Of course they should be using the Apple/Google solution if they want tech savvy people to install it.
    PetrolDavewatto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 11
    kkqd1337kkqd1337 Posts: 446member
    This app is, as we say in the UK; doomed.
    williamlondonrossb2FLMusicPetrolDavewatto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 11
    elijahgelijahg Posts: 2,788member
    According to Lewis, the NHSX system relies on Bluetooth Low Energy, and older phones which do not have it, cannot use the app. He also said that because it uses BLE, it is not draining people's batteries. 
    Yeah except it doesn't use BTLE on iOS because to keep the app alive and broadcasting, the developers are using an unsanctioned hack to avoid Apple's 5 minute BT broadcast cutoff, which breaks out of the LE spec, increasing power usage. The workaround is that the CPU is awoken every time an Android phone emits a beacon, which resets iOS's BT beacon timeout. That is where the battery drain comes from. And since the only way this system can work is if the iOS app keeps broadcasting, the battery drain is impossible to solve without using the Apple/Google method. I don't think this app will be released as is, the dev team have been instructed to investigate the Apple/Google method, apparently. I certainly won't be using it as is.
    williamlondonRayz2016rossb2PetrolDavewatto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 11
    elijahgelijahg Posts: 2,788member
    To be fair though, I don't think Apple has publicly stated the oldest phone they'll support with this app, so the iPhone 5s may be the oldest anyway even with the Apple/Google method.
  • Reply 6 of 11
    razorpitrazorpit Posts: 1,796member
    kkqd1337 said:
    This app is, as we say in the UK; doomed.
    One can only hope.
    williamlondonelijahgPetrolDavewatto_cobra
  • Reply 7 of 11
    Rayz2016Rayz2016 Posts: 6,957member
    However, Lewis suggested that the inability to run the app isn't a problem. "The system is there to protect the whole community," he said, "so if sufficient numbers of people download and use the app everyone will be protected regardless of whether they themselves have a phone that is compatible."


    That’s bullshite. 

    This man should be in politics. 

    If I don’t get a notification that someone I’ve been in contact with has the virus, then I’m not protected am I?

    williamlondonelijahgPetrolDavewatto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 11
    entropysentropys Posts: 4,221member
    Rayz2016 said:
    However, Lewis suggested that the inability to run the app isn't a problem. "The system is there to protect the whole community," he said, "so if sufficient numbers of people download and use the app everyone will be protected regardless of whether they themselves have a phone that is compatible."


    That’s bullshite. 

    This man should be in politics. 

    If I don’t get a notification that someone I’ve been in contact with has the virus, then I’m not protected am I?

    From what I understand, it doesn’t tell you the chap you just met has CoVID-19. Its purpose is to make tracing easier for the authorities. After the event. 
    That they aren’t using the API Apple made available is just grist for the mill of conspiracy theorists that the limitations on the use of the app by government really aren’t intended to be permanent and its scope is able to be expanded in the future.
    williamlondonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 11
    elijahgelijahg Posts: 2,788member
    entropys said:
    Rayz2016 said:
    However, Lewis suggested that the inability to run the app isn't a problem. "The system is there to protect the whole community," he said, "so if sufficient numbers of people download and use the app everyone will be protected regardless of whether they themselves have a phone that is compatible."


    That’s bullshite. 

    This man should be in politics. 

    If I don’t get a notification that someone I’ve been in contact with has the virus, then I’m not protected am I?

    From what I understand, it doesn’t tell you the chap you just met has CoVID-19. Its purpose is to make tracing easier for the authorities. After the event. 
    That they aren’t using the API Apple made available is just grist for the mill of conspiracy theorists that the limitations on the use of the app by government really aren’t intended to be permanent and its scope is able to be expanded in the future.
    Yeah because the UK authorities have never overstepped the mark before, and never accidentally leaked anything due to crap security. Oh wait.
    Rayz2016PetrolDavewatto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 11
    FLMusicFLMusic Posts: 17member
    Correct if I'm wrong, but wouldn't Apple & Google's contact tracing software also not be compatible with older devices, since (I think) it'd require a software update?
    PetrolDavewilliamlondonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 11
    Isn’t there a fundamental flaw in all these apps? I can be inches away from someone who is Covid-19 positive but the other side of a wall, a window, etc. but Bluetooth will still “see” their device. But I will not exposed to any risk at all - so there is a significant risk of a large number of false positives.
    williamlondonwatto_cobra
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