05/23 Update below. This post was originally published on May 21

Apple iOS 13.5 has landed and it’s the most important iOS update ever released because it integrates Apple’s COVID-19 contact tracing. It also delivers a number of essential upgrades as well as fixes to high profile problems. Does it deliver? So far, the signs are looking good. 

Tip: bookmark this page because I will keep it up to date if/when new problems are found (edit: new problems detailed below). I will deliver my final verdict in a week. 

05/23 Update: as more iPhone owners have updated their devices, a new iOS 13.5 problem has arisen with popular apps like WhatsApp, Facebook, YouTube and more refusing to load. Affected users receive the message: “This app is no longer shared with you” and many have taken to Twitter to complain to the official @AppleSupport account. The error seemingly stems from the Family Sharing Feature, but can be fixed by uninstalling and reinstalling the affected apps. As such, while annoying, this bug is not a showstopper and I would still advise you upgrade for the important (and potentially life saving) benefits this update brings.

Who Is It For?

iOS 13.5 is for all iOS 13-compatible devices. This means the iPhone 6S and newer and the 7th generation iPod touch. You should be notified to upgrade automatically but, if not, you can manually trigger it by navigating to Settings > General > Software Update. Beta testers, if you are running a newer version of iOS 13 when you read this (more in the ‘The Road Ahead’ section at the end), you must unenroll your iPhone for iOS 13.5 to show up.

iPad owners, Apple has moved you to a new dedicated platform: iPadOS. This is not an iPadOS-focused guide, but I will touch upon pertinent issues in these guides. 

Note: Apple has also released iOS 12.4.7 for older devices. This is purely a security update for the Mail app exploit which impacted all iPhones. It does not contain COVID-19 contact tracing functionality. 

The Deal Breakers

Jailbreakers, iOS 13.5 will remove your jailbreaks but it looks like that won’t last long after unc0ver posted that they will soon have a hack for this release via a zero-day kernel vulnerability. Something that may well provoke a response from Apple via a quick iOS 13.5.1 update. 

Aside from this, 24 hours in and the initial response to iOS 13.5 has been largely positive. The ongoing MP4 playback bug still exists and there are reports of high battery drain (1,2,3,4,5 etc), though that is not unusual as iPhones reindex after updating. There are also isolated reports of menu bugs and issues with Night Shift scheduling but otherwise, it’s a relatively clean bill of health at this stage. Even the infamously blunt Reddit is being kind in its release thread

So What Do You Get?

iOS 13.5 is generating headlines because it debuts Apple’s COVID-19 contact tracing functionality as well as crucial biometric upgrades and high profile bug fixes. Here are Apple’s release notes and bullet points:

“iOS 13.5 speeds up access to the passcode field on devices with Face ID when you are wearing a face mask and introduces the ‌Exposure Notification‌ API to support COVID-19 contact tracing apps from public health authorities. This update also introduces an option to control automatic prominence of video tiles on Group ‌FaceTime‌ calls and includes bug fixes and other improvements.”

Face ID and Passcode

  • Simplified unlock process for devices with Face ID when you are wearing a face mask
  • Passcode field automatically presented after swiping up from the bottom of the Lock screen when you are wearing a face mask
  • Also works when authenticating with the App Store, Apple Books, Apple Pay, iTunes, and other apps that support signing in with Face ID

‌Exposure Notification‌

  • ‌Exposure Notification‌ API to support COVID-19 contact tracing apps from public health authorities

‌FaceTime‌

  • Option to control automatic prominence on Group ‌FaceTime‌ calls so video tiles do not change size when a participant speaks

Emergency Services

  • Option to automatically share health and other essential information from your Medical ID with emergency services when you place an emergency call (US only)

This update also includes bug fixes and other improvements.

  • Fixes an issue where users may see a black screen when trying to play streaming video from some websites
  • Addresses an issue in the share sheet where suggestions and actions may not load 

Contact tracing is a big deal (it’s built into iPadOS 13.5 as well). The process is completely anonymous and it enables you to be alerted if you come into contact with someone who has COVID-19. It also allows you to anonymously notify others you have come into contact with, should you be diagnosed with the virus. Tracing is disabled by default but I would highly recommend you enable it to help yourself and others: Settings > Privacy > Health > COVID-19 Exposure Logging. 

Remember: A virus doesn’t spread, people spread a virus. 

Separately, the improvements to Face ID unlocking while wearing a face mask are to be welcomed along with speedier passcode unlocking if your iPhone fails to recognise you. Tweaks to FaceTime group chats are similarly relevant at this time, as is the upgraded sharing of Medical ID information during an emergency call. This is, in short, iOS ‘The Coronavirus Edition’ and Apple should be applauded for these changes.  

Furthermore, while Apple has yet to release the security information for iOS 13.5 on its official security page at the time of publication, ZecOps has confirmed that both it and iOS 12.4.7 patch the Mail app vulnerability that affected every iPhone on the planet.  

Apple iOS 13.5 Verdict: Looking Essential

Apple iOS 13.5 is the big one. It’s a serious upgrade for serious times and the good news is Apple appears to have got it out the door, relatively bug-free. Certainly, at this stage, there are no showstoppers. 

As always, I’ll deliver my final verdict in a week after I gather more information from the growing number of upgraders. But, unless you’re a very cautious upgrader, I’d suggest this is one iOS release to jump on straight away. It might just save your life. 

The Road Ahead 

At the time of publication, Apple has not started beta testing a new version of iOS 13. Given the zero-day vulnerability discovered by unc0ver, however, an iOS 13.5.1 release seems likely. That aside, Apple’s focus will now be on iOS 14, ahead of its September launch alongside the iPhone 12. History will remember iOS 13 as one of Apple’s buggiest iOS generations, but the signs are it might just end on a high. 

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