iOS 17.4 Is a Huge Change for the iPhone, but Only If You Live in the EU


Apple released its latest update for the iPhone, iOS 17.4, on Tuesday, March 5. Although it might not be a flagship release, like iOS 17.0, as it happens, iOS 17.4 is actually one of the most groundbreaking iOS updates ever. Unfortunately, the truly massive changes only affect those living in the EU (at least for now). But the rest of us will find plenty of fun new features as well.

Alternative app marketplaces (EU only)

One of the biggest pieces of news with iOS 17.4 is the introduction of support for alternative app marketplaces. It’s a big point of contention in the EU. The European Union has ordered Apple to open up iOS to allow third-party app stores in addition to Apple’s proprietary App Store. The idea is to encourage competition in the marketplace, as the government argues Apple currently has a monopoly on the apps it allows to be sold and downloaded on iPhone.

That doesn’t mean that any app can be made and sold through iOS in the EU post-iOS 17.4. Any app store that is created for iOS needs to be abide by Apple’s checklist of rules in order to actually be approved. In addition, while developers now have a choice whether to sell their apps through Apple’s stores or a third-party option, their apps will always need to go through similar security checks.

I imagine many developers will choose the third-party route, as they’ll be able to skirt the steep percentage fees Apple charges for apps sold via their official App Store. That said, there will still be a “Core Technology Fee,” even on third-party stores, which will charge half a euro per download, per account once an app reaches one million downloads. If you choose to host your app on Apple’s store, though, their cut drops from 30% to 17%, and subscription fees drop from 15% to 10%.

As a user, you’ll be able to set a default app marketplace, so iOS will know where you want to download the majority of your apps going forward.

Use whatever browser you want (EU only)

Apple’s default iOS browser is Safari. If you want to use another browser, like Chrome or Firefox, you can download it from the App Store, same as you would on a Mac. However, the key difference is, on iOS, all web browsers must be built on WebKit, the underlying platform powering Safari. While third-party browsers can offer slightly different features, or allow you to sync certain data with their desktop counterparts, all browsers on iOS are, at their core, Safari in disguise.

That, too, is changing, at least in the EU. Starting with iOS 17.4, European iPhone users will be able to download third-party browsers that aren’t built with WebKit. Google can offer the same Chrome browser they offer on Android, as can Firefox. What’s more, Apple will allow you to choose from many different third-party browsers to serve as the default, including options like Firefox, Opera, Chrome, Brave, and Microsoft Edge.

NFC payments open to third parties (EU only)

In addition, third parties, including apps, can take advantage of NFC payments on iOS without going through Apple Pay. Users will be able to choose which app they want to use for NFC payments.

Apple doesn’t want these features to come to the U.S.

To be clear, Apple is not happy about these mandated changes in the EU, saying they leave Apple users and devices vulnerable. The company wants to keep these changes limited to the EU, but it doesn’t seem like that will hold forever. The cat’s out of the bag, and whether it’s due to governmental or market forces, Apple will likely need to open up its platform in similar ways around the world over the next few years.

118 new emojis

Finally, we get to new features all of us can use on iOS 17.4, including something everyone loves: new emojis. This new update adds support for emojis from Unicode 15.1, which brings 118 new icons to your iPhone. There’s a shaking head, a nodding head, a phoenix, lime, new mushroom, broken chain, as well as new people emojis, including a person in manual wheelchair, a person in motorized wheelchair, and a person with a white cane.

Apple Podcasts

Apple’s other non-EU flagship update with iOS 17.4 is to Apple Podcasts, specifically with the introduction of transcripts. Transcripts not only allow you to read an entire podcast episode if you can’t listen, they’re interactive: You can tap on a particular word to jump to that part of the podcast (similar to how lapping a lyric jumps to that point in a song on Apple Music), and you can search for words or phrases as you would any other text file. It works with accessibility features like Text Size, Increase Contrast, and VoiceOver, and is available starting with English, French, Spanish, and German-language podcasts. New episodes will be transcribed shortly after publishing, while Apple plans to transcribe past episodes overtime.

Music recognition is more useful

When you use iOS’ music recognition feature (powered by Shazam), you’ll now be able to add those songs to Apple Music playlists and your library, in addition to Apple Music Classical. That’s a lot more convenient than manually adding these songs yourself, especially if you’re prone to picking up new music as you’re out and about.

New option to always require security delay for Stolen Device Protection

With Stolen Device Protection enabled, there’s a delay before you can change security settings when away from known locations, like your home. With iOS 17.4, Apple added a new toggle that forces this delay at all times, even when iOS detects you’re somewhere safe.

New battery health data

In Settings > Battery > Battery Health, you’ll now see your battery cycle count, the battery’s manufacture date, and the first use for the battery, so long as you have an iPhone 15 model device. Why these options can’t appear on iPhone 14 and older is beyond me, but it’s a nice step for battery transparency.

Apple Cash virtual card number

Great news for anyone who uses Apple Cash: iOS 17.4 now gives your Apple Cash card a virtual number. That way, you can use your rewards at stores that don’t take Apple Pay, whether they’re online or in-person.

Miscellaneous features

Finally, here are some fun features that aren’t substantial changes, but are noteworthy nonetheless:

  • Siri has a new option to announce messages you receive in any supported language

  • Call Identification displays Apple-verified business name, logo, and department name when available

  • Business updates in Messages for Business provide trusted information for order status, flight notifications, fraud alerts or other transactions you opt into

Bug fixes and security patches

All iOS updates come with bug fixes and patches. There are the ones Apple identified in iOS 17.4’s release notes:

  • Fixes an issue where contact pictures are blank in Find My

  • Fixes an issue for Dual SIM users where the phone number changes from primary to secondary and is visible to a group they have messaged

Apple hasn’t released the security notes for iOS 17.4 yet, but when they do, I will update this piece.

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