iOS 17.4 is here and ready for a whole new Europe

iphone 15 pro at the 2023 iphone launch event
iPhone 15 users should now see more battery-related information under Battery Health settings. | Image: The Verge

Apple’s iOS 17.4 update is now available, introducing new emoji and a cryptographic security protocol for iMessage, alongside some major changes to the App Store and contactless payments for the iPhone platform in Europe. Apple is making several of these changes to comply with the EU’s Digital Markets Act (DMA), a law that aims to make the digital economy fairer by removing unfair advantages that tech giants hold over businesses and end users.

iOS 17.4 will allow third-party developers to offer alternative app marketplaces and app downloads to EU users from outside the iOS App Store. Developers wanting to take advantage of this will be required to go through Apple’s approval process and pay Apple a “Core Technology Fee” that charges 50 euro cents per install once an app reaches 1 million downloads annually.

iPhone owners in the EU will see different update notes that specifically mention new options available for app stores, web browsers, and payment options.

The approval process may take some time, but we know that at least one enterprise-focused app marketplace from Mobivention will be available on March 7th. Epic is also working on releasing the Epic Game Store on iOS in 2024, and software company MacPaw is planning to officially launch its Setapp store in April.

iOS 17.4 allows people in the EU to download alternative browser engines that aren’t based on Apple’s WebKit, such as Chrome and Firefox, with a new choice screen in iOS Safari that will prompt users to select a default browser when opened for the first time. While no browser alternatives have been officially announced, both Google and Mozilla are currently experimenting with new iOS browsers that could eventually be released to the public.

Apple is also introducing new APIs that allow third-party developers to utilize the iPhone’s NFC payment chip for contactless payment services besides Apple Pay and Apple Wallet in the European Economic Area. No alternative contactless providers have been confirmed yet, but users will find a list of apps that have requested the feature under Settings > Privacy & Security > Contactless & NFC.

While Apple previously revealed it was planning to drop support for progressive web apps (PWAs) in the EU to avoid building “an entirely new integration architecture” around DMA compliance, the company now says it will “continue to offer the existing Home Screen web apps capability” for EU users. However, these homescreen apps will still run using WebKit technology, with no option to be powered by third-party browser engines.

Outside of its DMA obligations, Apple’s iOS 17.4 update adds some new, widely available features that can be enjoyed globally. The Podcasts app is adding auto-generated audio transcripts for English, French, German, and Spanish-language podcasts, which can be searched for specific phrases or words to go directly to the corresponding point in the episode. A new cryptographic protocol for iMessage, known as PQ3, is also included in the iOS 17.4 update, supposedly bolstering end-to-end messaging encryption against potential quantum computing attacks. No such attacks have been disclosed, but Apple is laying the groundwork to prepare for such an eventuality.

Siri has a new option to read incoming messages in any Siri-supported language, which includes Spanish, French, German, Chinese, and more. Over 100 new emoji — such as a lime, broken chain, brown mushroom, and nodding / shaking heads — are also being added following the Unicode 15.1 update last September.

iPhone 15 devices will now display more battery-related information under the Battery Health settings, including cycle count, manufacture date, and when the battery was first used. And finally, the music recognition feature introduced in iOS 14.2 will now let users add identified songs to their Apple Music library and playlists.

iOS 17.4 is compatible with the same range of iPhone models as iOS 17, going back to the iPhone X range and second-generation iPhone SE. The rollout may be gradual, but you can check if it’s available on your device by heading into Settings > General > Software Update.