Five million COVIDSafe downloads despite tech issues
More than five million Australian have registered on the COVIDSafe app despite technical issues that have prevented many from downloading it.
Almost one million Australians cannot install Australia's COVIDSafe app for technical reasons, in an issue which has technology experts and thwarted users calling for the Government to make urgent upgrades to the coronavirus-tracing tool.
News Corp can reveal approximately 926,000 smartphones in Australia use Google software considered too old to run the app, reducing its potential audience and frustrating users, many of whom are in high-risk groups.
Experts say the oversight may have been caused by "rushing" to launch the project but a fix could be on the way.
Health Minister Greg Hunt on Wednesday said more than five million Australians had now downloaded the app.
"A technology sector leader said to me yesterday that it took Facebook 10 months globally to achieve their first 1 million users. Australians together having less than 10 days, achieved five million downloads and registrations," he said,
"And that's an extraordinary achievement. More to be done, but we're ahead of schedule. We're achieving what we'd hoped."
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the five million downloads was a "welcome" response.
"Its most important job is to keep you safe," he said.
"Every single Australian that downloads it, it keeps them safe. If you have come into contact with someone who also has the app who has been infected by COVID-19, you will know and people will get in touch with you."
The app, launched on April 27, uses encrypted Bluetooth communications to record phones that have been within 1.5m of one another for at least 15 minutes.
If a person with the app is later diagnosed with coronavirus, they can share that information with state health authorities so their close contacts can be identified and warned.
But the app can only be installed on Apple iPhones with iOS 10 software and Google Android smartphones using Android 6.0 and above, preventing hundreds thousands of Australians from using the app.
Telsyte senior analyst Alvin Lee said research showed more than 900,000 Australians were still using smartphones running incompatible software by the end of 2019; confirmed by figures from StatCounter and Statista.
Brisbane retirees Jen, 68, and Peter Gardiner, 76, discovered they were unable to use COVIDSafe due to its technical limitations shortly after launch.
Mrs Gardiner said she and Peter, who has underlying health conditions that put him at high risk from coronavirus, were eager to install the app on their Samsung Galaxy J smartphones, purchased in 2016, that still met their needs.
"We are keen to use it because we've been self-isolating until now … We want the app but we're not in the market for new phones," she said.
"There's probably a lot of people like us."
Mrs Gardiner said Peter installed the app on his son's smartphone, so he could receive a warning if he had been exposed at work, but they were frustrated at being left out.
Professor Katina Michael, from the University of Wollongong Engineering and Information Sciences faculty, said greater consideration and consultation should have been made to ensure as many Australians could use the app as possible.
"Some people don't have a brand new smartphone. I don't think the Government thought about the design implications of their apps on different devices, that some people won't have a compatible device, that some vulnerable groups may lack the ability to use it," she said.
"It's never too late to update an app and say here's a better version, but this rollout may have impacted people's perceptions on the Government's capacity."
The criticism comes in addition to ongoing problems running the COVIDSafe app effectively on Apple iPhones, where its Bluetooth communications could be placed into the background when more than one app was used.
A spokeswoman for Health Minister Greg Hunt said both issues were being investigated by the Digital Transformation Agency, however, with future updates possible.
The Federal Government was working with both Apple and Google, she said, to "enhance the performance" of the app.
"The Digital Transformation Agency is looking at expanding the capability for older devices to run the COVIDSafe app," she said.
"COVIDSafe can be downloaded by iPhone and Android users and supports as broad (a) range of handsets as possible."
Mr Morrison initially called for 40 per cent of Australians to download and use the coronavirus-tracing app.
Originally published as Five million COVIDSafe downloads despite tech issues