iOS 17.4 could fix Apple’s awkward video reactions feature

A photo showing Apple’s fireworks reaction on a video call.
The animations are fine for FaceTime, but maybe not a therapy telehealth app. | Image: Apple

Apple looks ready to give developers more control over its video emoji reactions feature in upcoming iOS 17.4 and iPadOS 17.4 updates, MacRumors reports. The feature, which was introduced with the release of iOS 17 and iPadOS 17 last year (as well as in macOS 14), automatically shows 3D animations like fireworks and lasers when an Apple device’s camera sees participants making certain hand gestures on a call. iOS 17.4 reportedly offers a new API to let third-party developers turn off the feature.

The update appears to be in response to reports from last year that the chipper 3D animations — which are turned on by default — could trigger in inappropriate situations like online therapy sessions. That’s because as well as appearing in Apple’s own FaceTime service, the animations will also appear in third-party video conferencing apps like Google Meet.

Inappropriate emoji triggers were clearly enough of an issue for one telehealth provider to update its FAQ to distance itself from them. “Important: This isn’t a feature integrated into our Telehealth platform and we don’t have control over these settings for iOS,” an FAQ from SimplePractice reads. Users also reported that a similar warning dialog would appear at the start of online therapy calls.

While it’s already possible for end users to turn off the feature, MacRumors reports that iOS 17.4 and iPadOS 17.4 include a new API for developers to turn it off on their end. It’s unclear if a similar API is coming to macOS 14.4, MacRumors notes. And as with all software betas these features could change by the time the updates get an official release that’s expected next month.