Last night the NZ COVID Tracer app was released on Apple’s App Store and the Google Play store (for Android). Naturally I installed it and took a look around.

Firstly, let’s just say that I’m really pleased that the Ministry of Health has decided to support having contact tracing technology in the hands of citizens in the form of the NZ COVID Tracer app. However, if I look critically at the app, there are some aspects that are disappointing:

  • Initial functionality is limited to scanning a QR code at premises you visit – however, none of around 20 or destinations I checked with this afternoon were displaying a QR code compatible with the app. Those I asked advised they’d not heard from any government entity (Ministry of Health or Ministry of Business Innovation & Employment) regarding getting registered with a QR code for the app.
  • There is no functionality to manually document locations you’ve visited – for instance those without a QR code, or those you visited before installing the app (this seems essential for an app that is being promoted as keeping a record of the places you go)
  • The app is buggy right now (I experienced issues with signup and with logging into the app)
  • The app isn’t available for those who have their app store login linked to other countries (unlike most NZ banking apps, etc which can be downloaded even if your account is linked to the United States Google Play store for instance)
  • There’s no Bluetooth tracking capability as used in apps installed by millions of people in Australia and Singapore. As Singapore shared details of how they did this a long time ago and Australia delivered this weeks ago it should have been easy to incorporate it from the get go rather than offering up an indication this will come in June.

To sum up this app release, it doesn’t seem to line up with the “Going hard and going early” approach the government has touted – it feels a little more like: “Going soft and going late.”

There is enough to make the initial app useful soon and it will no doubt be downloaded by a lot of people. Plus, it’s fair to say that apps in other countries haven’t been as successful as many hoped they would be, so New Zealand coming late to the game has an advantage of learning from shortcomings elsewhere.

Fortunately, apps can be quickly modified, improved and updated. I am trusting that Ministry of Health have just got this initial version of the NZ COVID Tracer app into the hands of the public after a short development cycle with the goal of improving it rapidly over the days and weeks ahead.