How a handful of Apple and Google employees came together to help health officials trace coronavirus – CNBC

How a handful of Apple and Google employees came together to help health officials trace coronavirus – CNBC

Singapore’s new contact tracing app, TraceTogether, which is being used as a preventive measure against the Covid-19 coronavirus in the city-state.

Catherine Lai | AFP via Getty Images

One of the most ambitious projects in Apple history launched in less than a month, and was driven by just a handful of employees. 

In mid-March, with Covid-19 spreading to almost every country in the world, a small team at Apple started brainstorming how they could help. They knew that smartphones would be key to the global coronavirus response, particularly as countries started relaxing their shelter-in-place orders. To prepare for that, governments and private companies were building so-called “contact tracing” apps to monitor citizens’ movements and determine whether they might have come into contact with someone infected with the virus.

Within a few weeks, the Apple project — code-named “Bubble” — had dozens of employees working on it with executive-level support from two sponsors: Craig Federighi, a senior vice president of software engineering, and Jeff Williams, the company’s chief operating officer and de-facto head of healthcare. By the end of the month, Google had officially come on board, and about a week later, the companies’ two CEOs Tim Cook and Sundar Pichai met virtually to give their final vote of approval to the project.

That speed of development was highly unusual for Apple, a company obsessed with making its products perfect before releasing them to the world. Project Bubble also required that Apple
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