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Back on track - HSE insists battery issue with app is resolved

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Health Minister Stephen Donnelly at Covid Tracker app launch

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly at Covid Tracker app launch

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly at Covid Tracker app launch

Thousands of smartphone users who saw their batteries drain unusually quickly after downloading the Covid Tracker app have been told the problem is resolved.

The HSE declined to say how many people deleted the app because of the issue.

Some users of Android smartphones, covering brands such as Samsung, Huawei, Sony and OnePlus, experienced abnormal battery life depletion and overheating with their phones and indicated the Covid Tracker app as the culprit.

In separate statements, the HSE, Google and Nearform, the app's development firm, said the issue was fixable.

Update

"Sorry to anyone that has had issues with the app this weekend," the HSE said in a statement.

"We have identified the problem that some users with Android phones are experiencing.

"Google are working with us to fix it as soon as possible."

There have been no reports of the issue affecting iPhones.

Last weekend, the HSE claimed the problem was triggered by an update to Google Play Services leading to a change in behaviour in the app's Exposure Notification System.

However, Google has not recently updated Google Play Services.

Google and Apple are the main architects of the underlying technology behind the Covid Tracker app.

The joint effort by the two tech giants was designed partially to minimise the impact on battery life from the app, which works in the background, even when the phone is locked or sleeping.

Typically, the app can use around 5pc of a smartphone's daily battery reserve.

However, over the weekend, hundreds of people on social media platforms such as Twitter and Reddit complained that their Android handsets were sapped of power within hours because of errant behaviour from the Covid Tracker app.

Around 1.5 million Irish people have downloaded the app, according to the HSE, with more than 100 tracing connections made since its launch.

The Covid Tracker app is designed to detect periods of close proximity between people for the purpose of alerting users if one of them subsequently tests positive for Covid-19.

Close proximity is defined as being within two metres of another individual for a period of 15 minutes or more.

HSE officials said the Bluetooth technology works reliably in this way 80pc of the time.

The app is also designed to work with similarly constructed tracker apps from other countries that are based on the underlying API technology from Apple and Google.

Criticism

The HSE said it plans to highlight adoption of the app to international visitors coming to Ireland.

Although widely regarded as a success in terms of adoption rate, the app has attracted criticism over location settings.

According to the HSE and the app's settings, Android phone users must switch the phone's overall location settings on for the app to work.

However, this does not enable location tracking through the app, the authorities say.

Instead, it is a technical requirement for Bluetooth to work.

Google's vice-president of engineering for Android told the Herald it is down to the way Android was built some years back.