Apple says it is unaware that the United Kingdom was working on a “hybrid” version of the NHS coronavirus contact tracking application using technology developed with Google.
The company took the unusual step of saying it was unaware of a distance measurement issue that was reported by Health Secretary Matt Hancock in Thursday’s daily briefing.
Apple said it was “difficult to understand” the claims.
Downing Street said the government had “worked closely with Apple and Google.”
In tests done in the UK, there have been cases where software tools developed by Apple and Google couldn’t tell the difference between a phone in a user’s pocket at 1 m (3.3 feet) and a phone in a user’s hand 3 meters (9.8 feet) away.
At the briefing, Hancock said, “Measuring distance is clearly essential to any contact tracing application. ”
However, speaking to The Times, Apple said, “It is difficult to understand what these claims are because they did not speak to us. ”
The company also pointed out that the technology is already in use or intended for use in Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Ireland.
The tech giant also expressed surprise that the UK is working on a new version of the contact finder that incorporated the Apple-Google software tool.
“We have agreed to join forces with Google and Apple to bring the best of both systems together,” said Hancock.
However, Apple said, “We don’t know what they mean by this hybrid model. They didn’t tell us about it. ”
He told the BBC that he had nothing more to add.
Google said yesterday that it welcomed the government’s announcement.
A Downing Street spokesperson said the government has continued to work closely with Apple and Google on the app since development began.
“We agreed with them to advance our work on distance estimation via the application we developed and to work to integrate it into their application,” he said.
Apple and Google have not created any apps.
What they have built is a software tool that makes it easier for contact finding apps to work with iPhones and Android devices, but which does not store any data centrally.
The UK wanted to store the data because it argued that it would be useful for scientists who would follow the spread of Covid-19.
Oxford University Dr. David Bonsall, who is an advisor to NHS application developers, told the BBC that the tech giant had chosen not to support the original UK model .
“In the end, Apple decided not to support the centralized system which had been developed by the United Kingdom from March, and six weeks before announcing its own system according to a decentralized model”, a- he declared.
“And that must be taken into account in our thinking about the situation the UK is currently facing. “
The now discontinued NHS application has been tested on the Isle of Wight where it has been downloaded more than 50,000 times.
However, it only registered about 4% of nearby iPhones.
Islanders have now been asked to delete it.
It’s not the first time the government has run into Apple over an app – in 2018, an app designed to help EU citizens apply to stay in the UK after Brexit also found that it did not work properly on iPhones.
On this occasion, Apple finally agreed to make the necessary changes to its system.