iOS and iPadOS 13.5 now available with COVID-19 contact API, FaceTime and Face ID tweaks

Apple has jumped to 13.5 with new features aimed at helping deal with COVID-19.

ios13 mockup
Jason Cross/IDG

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Having released iOS and iPadOS 13.4 on March 24 with big new features like trackpad and mouse support for iPads and iCloud folder sharing, Apple is moving on to its next minor release.

Apple released iOS 13.4.1 without a beta test, and then started realeasing beta versions of 13.4.5 that primarily included only bug fixes. On April 29, without ever releasing 13.4.5, Apple released what it calls “beta 3” of iOS 13.5. So, Apple just renamed the usual 13.4.5 release with an upgraded version number as it included more significant features. 

Updated 05/20/20: Apple has released the final version of iOS 13.5 to the general public. It includes the first version of the Apple/Google contact tracing API. The release will probably go out to the public this week.

What’s new in iOS 13.5

What will you find in iOS and iPadOS 13.5? We expect this release to fine-tune a few minor details and fix a few bugs, while also starting to address COVID-19 specific issues. It might also include support for future hardware like the rumored Apple Tags tracking devices or over-the-ear headphones.

Face ID for those wearing masks

It would make Face ID a lot less secure for it to work on people wearing masks. But now that so many millions of people are wearing masks every day, Apple has made the fail state a little less painful.

After swiping up to unlock your iPhone, you used to have to wait a second for Face ID to fail before it would display the keypad to enter your passcode. Now, it displays the keypad right away so you can start entering your passcode immediately without waiting a second for Face ID to fail (due to your mask). It's a very small change, but will be appreciated by those wearing masks all day.

Contact tracing API

This iOS release will include the Apple/Google contact tracing API for developers. That won’t mean anything to regular users until state health agencies release apps that use it, but the developers of those apps can now publish them.

It's important to note that the Google/Apple exposure notification API protects your privacy in many ways. Data is never uploaded from your device to a central server, your identity is never shared (only a random, and changing, string of letters and numbers), and your location is never recorded or shared. Still, there's a new privacy setting to prevent logging of COVID-19 tracing data. To change it, go to Settings > Privacy > Health and look for COVID-19 Exposure Logging at the top of the screen.

ios 13 5 covid settings IDG

The COVID-19 contact tracing protects your privacy, but you can still disable it if you want.

Group FaceTime face zooming

When you make a Group FaceTime call, iOS automatically zooms in on the person who's speaking. That may work with three or four people, but in more crowded calls it's a pain. New in iOS 13.5 is a toggle to disable that. 

Go to Settings > FaceTime and look for the Automatic Prominence heading. There's a toggle for Speaking there.

Release notes

This is the full text of Apple's release notes for iOS 13.5:

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.


  • 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.

How to get iOS or iPadOS 13.5

Most users will get a notification that iOS 13.5 is available sometime in the first few weeks. It may even be installed automatically if you have Automatic Updates enabled.

To check for it manually, open Settings and tap General, then Software Update. Once iOS/iPadOS 13.5 has been released, you should see the option to install it there. It can take a few hours to show up for everyone, so if you don't see it at first, just check again later.

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