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Google working to support COVID-19 Exposure Notifications on wearables, probably for Wear OS

An update to Google Play Services beta points to smartwatches and possibly other wearables being used to collect and share COVID-19 exposure notification info.

About APK Insight: In this ‘APK Insight’ post, we’ve decompiled the latest version of an application that Google uploaded to the Play Store. When we decompile these files (called APKs, in the case of Android apps), we’re able to see various lines of code within that hint at possible future features. Keep in mind that Google may or may not ever ship these features, and our interpretation of what they are may be imperfect. We’ll try to enable those that are closer to being finished, however, to show you how they’ll look in the case that they do ship. With that in mind, read on.

Wearable exposure notifications

As it stands today, contact tracing apps on Android and iOS use your phone’s Bluetooth chip to anonymously detect devices you come into contact with, while also anonymously sharing your own presence with others. While each government agency’s COVID-19 contact tracing and exposure notifications app on Android is different, they’re all powered by Google Play Services.

This week, the beta version of Google Play Services received an update to version 20.50.14, adding a variety of new text related to COVID-19 contact tracing and exposure notifications. Notably, there are five new bits of text that directly reference “exposure_notification_wearable.”

<string name=”exposure_notification_wearable_available_devices”>Available devices</string>

<string name=”exposure_notification_wearable_device_name”>Device name</string>

<string name=”exposure_notification_wearable_pair_dialog_title”>Pair %s for COVID-19 Exposure Notification?</string>

As you would expect, the wearable will be able to show you an incoming COVID-19 exposure notification.

<string name=”exposure_notification_wearable_device_list”>Get notified on paired devices</string>

More importantly, your wearable device will also be able to collect and share COVID-19 contact tracing info instead of relying on your phone’s Bluetooth capabilities.

<string name=”exposure_notification_wearable_pair_dialog_message”>”Your phone will use this device to securely collect and share random IDs with other devices that are nearby.

You can be notified if you’ve been near someone who reported having COVID-19.

The date, duration, and signal strength associated with an exposure will be shared with the app.”</string>

Unfortunately, the strings don’t currently clarify what sorts of wearables will be compatible with Google Play Services’ exposure notifications system. In our eyes, Wear OS smartwatches are the most likely candidates, given Google would be able to create and roll out the necessary software changes to collect the necessary data.

As with phone-based COVID-19 exposure notifications, you’ll no doubt need to live in an area whose government offers an official contact tracing app through which to share the information. From our reading of the text, the exposure notification data is shared from your wearable to your phone then shared with the Android app.

h/t XDA-Developers

Thanks to JEB Decompiler, which some APK Insight teardowns benefit from.

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Avatar for Kyle Bradshaw Kyle Bradshaw

Kyle is an author and researcher for 9to5Google, with special interests in Made by Google products, Fuchsia, and Stadia.

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