The drain on the battery life of iPhones is Singapore’s government-developed contact tracing app TraceTogether’s major flaw, said Temasek Holdings CEO Ho Ching today (9 May).
The app, she observed, requires users to “keep their phones on all the time, and to keep it upside down and in battery saving mode so that the iPhones won’t drain off dreadfully quickly”.
“One among us has just found out that he needed to leave his iPhone upside down in his pocket, so he is still at the start of using the app,” Mdm Ho added.
She highlighted that based on a “quick check-in” with a chat group of ten users, “the young ones” had stopped using the app and became “irritated by all the msgs to turn the app on”.
“But if only one chap among 10 turns on the app, it is like a fax machine on its own with no other fax machine to connect with, yah?” Mdm Ho questioned.
“As better solutions emerge, the poorer ones fall by the wayside”: Ho Ching, on why all segments of society should be given the opportunity to “flourish” in terms of finding solutions
Noting that different industries and segments of society have different requirements from one another, Mdm Ho — who is also the wife of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong — said that “a myriad of solutions” should be allowed to flourish to enable them to land on solutions that “suit their own needs”.
“Allow all to flourish, and define the data that needs to be sent up and aggregated for quick contact tracing,” she said, adding that “as better solutions emerge, the poorer ones fall by the wayside”.
“This is the equivalent of telcos operating a network, with user deciding whether they prefer an iPhone, a Samsung, a ZTE, Huawei, or a Google phone.
“We just need to define the interface standards so that an iPhone user can talk to a Huawei user, and a Samsung phone can connect to a Google phone.
“The path to good systems solutions is not by trying to hammer all the square pegs into tiny round holes,” she said.
Privacy concerns, draining iPhone battery life among factors cited for low usage rate of TraceTogether app
The TraceTogether app, a joint initiative by the Government Technology Agency (GovTech) and the Ministry of Health (MOH), works by exchanging short-distance Bluetooth signals between phones to detect other participating users in close proximity.
This enables contact tracers to inform TraceTogether users who are close contacts of COVID-19 cases more quickly.
The app can be downloaded by anyone with a Singapore mobile number and a Bluetooth-enabled smartphone.
Janil Puthucheary, Minister-in-charge of GovTech, told reporters at a press conference on 20 Mar that in the contact tracing process, “time matters”, and the introduction of TraceTogether “means that poor memory will no longer slow down the process of contact tracing”.
“The faster the contact tracing process can be initiated and can identify the people at risk, the faster we can intervene and impose quarantine if necessary and limit spread locally,” Dr Janil added.
As of 20 April, however, TraceTogether has only managed to reel 1.1 million users — or 20 per cent of the population, according to the app’s website. Half of the total numbers were recorded in the first 24 hours alone, it added.
Users of the app cited concerns regarding surveillance and privacy as well as data vulnerabilities to hackers who attempt to intercept data via Bluetooth, in addition to the drain on battery life for iPhones as mentioned by Mdm Ho in her post today.
National Development Minister Lawrence Wong on Friday (8 May) at a press conference by the multi-ministry task force on COVID-19 said that to prepare for the impending reopening of businesses at the scheduled end of the circuit breaker on 1 June, the use of TraceTogether — alongside SafeEntry — must be put in place.
Earlier on Monday, Mr Wong told Parliament that the TraceTogether team is currently working with Apple and Google to enhance the effectiveness of the app.
One of the “key tenets of agile development” is to “put aside face and pride”: Ho Ching, on TraceTogether app’s purported failures
Mdm Ho in her Facebook post today also stressed that one of the “key tenets of agile development” is to “put aside face and pride”, and to drop something quickly “so that we don’t waste resources just to soothe someone’s fragile feelings”.
In an interview with GovInsider last year, her son, Li Hongyi, the deputy director for data science and AI at GovTech, said that in the process of building open government products such as websites and apps — one of which is the Parking.sg app — his team treats weaknesses “in good faith”.
“The idea is that you’re going to encounter problems, so you might as well try to learn from them the best you can,” he said.
Mdm Ho’s criticism of the TraceTogether app appears to be an interesting development in the timeline of the app since its launch, given that Mr Li frequently leads teams under GovTech in projects involving the development of such apps.