A few weeks ago, Apple and Google announced a partnership to create standard APIs that use Bluetooth connections on smartphones for COVID-19 contact tracing. The companies will release apps based on the new technology on May 1, and it will get deeply integrated into iOS 14 and Android 11. Now, a story has shined the light on how this technology came to be and how it was developed.
A new report from CNBC details the development of Apple’s and Google’s contact-tracing technology. The original idea for this technology originated in mid-March 2020 at Apple by a small group of engineers who were brainstorming ideas to curb the spread of COVID-19. People in the team knew that smartphones could be vital to loosening stay-at-home restrictions.
According to the report, the speed at which the idea was transformed into an under-development project was lightning. Within weeks, at least a dozen Apple employees were working on the project codenamed ‘Bubble.’ The company’s software chief Craig Federighi and COO Jeff Williams were supporting the project. Jeff is also the head of healthcare technologies at Apple.
The new team included employees from the healthcare division, location services team, and various software experts inside Apple. Eventually, two cryptography experts joined the team to improve the privacy aspect of the technology. More employees started pitching in their additional time.
The initial Bubble solution included a Bluetooth-based system that was strictly opt-in and sent anonymous alerts all the nearby devices within the range. It also stored the data in a decentralized manner. All these features eventually became a part of the final product that will be released next week. It was also crucial for the system to work in the background, something that isn’t possible in iOS by default.
At the same time, Google was working on its own contact-tracing technology codenamed ‘Apollo.’ Google reportedly got on board and joined Apple’s hands by the end of March 2020 when Dave Burke, Vice President of Android at Google, got in touch with Apple about the project. In the end, Apple CEO Tim Cook and Google CEO Sundar Pichai met virtually to apply their seal of approval on the project.
The COVID-19 contact tracing technology developed by Apple and Google will work across Android and iOS devices. It will work on all iPhones starting with iPhone 6s and later. Government authorities could also use the technology’s APIs across the world if they plan to integrate it into their own apps. While some countries have decided to use the system, countries like the UK have decided not to use it.[Source: CNBC]