As Canada’s COVID Alert app moves through beta testing, reports have surfaced that some Android manufacturers that use aggressive battery saving techniques are making problems for contact tracing apps.
A German website called Bild (via WinFuture) claims that Germany’s contact tracing app doesn’t receive COVID-19 exposure notifications on time, if at all, on many Samsung and Huawei phones. The publication blames battery management tweaks for delaying notifications.
It’s important to note that battery management tweaks only affect notifications and not the contact tracing itself. On Android, Google incorporated the Exposure Notification API into Play Services, which integrates deeply into the operating system. This allows Bluetooth contact tracing to run smoothly in the background.
The result of this is that some Germans must open the contact tracing app to receive notifications, which is counter to how the system was intended to work. Further, since missed notifications could mean missed warnings about infection, the problem could lead to people spreading COVID-19.
Android Police notes that many manufacturers modify how Android handles background tasks and apps, often aggressively pausing or killing those tasks to preserve battery life. Many developers have complained about the behaviour, which can interfere with how their apps work. Android VP Dave Burke recently acknowledged that the Android team was monitoring the situation.
However, Google will eventually need to set a standard for how Android handles background tasks and battery management. The problem with the current system is that manufacturers tweak it. Since developers can’t always test for every available device, app behaviour can break if a device doesn’t follow the standard battery management tool.
As for the German contact tracing app, Germany added a toggle to the app that lets it always run in the background to bypass the issue. Additionally, the developers have asked manufacturers to ease background restrictions, noting that Huawei has already confirmed it would do so for the app.
Considering Canada’s COVID Alert app could launch soon, people must be aware of the possible issues. Website ‘dontkillmyapp.com‘ lists some of the worst offenders, including OnePlus, Huawei, Samsung and Asus (some other top offenders aren’t available in Canada). If you have one of these phones and download the COVID Alert app when it becomes available, make sure to periodically check the app so you don’t miss any notifications.