iOS 17.4 is a big new direction for Apple

  • iOS 17.4 is a huge update packed with new features and security enhancements.
  • The EU has alternative app stores, payment methods, and browser engines.
  • New emoji!

iOS 17.4 has been released, and while it sounds like a pretty in-between version number, it's actually the biggest update since iOS 17.0 launched last year, and one of the strangest iOS releases ever.

As always, Apple's spring iOS releases bring a host of new features, including a quantum computer-proven version of iMessage, podcast transcription, stolen device protection, and more. But it also started a huge rift between the U.S. and EU versions, giving Europeans access to alternative app stores, alternative browser engines, and third-party apps accessing the iPhone's NFC chip, the one used for Apple Pay. let's start.

"[More app store] options could bring more choices to consumers and provide competitive pricing for apps. If developers have to compete for users, they may be inspired to push creative boundaries. This could mean We’ll be rolling out cool new features in the future,” Michael L. Moore, technology writer and founder of Devoted to Vinyl, told Lifewire via email.

The European changes in iOS 17.4 mark the first major fork of the iPhone operating system between the United States and the European Union. For example, Apple has launched a different version for China, where iCloud restrictions are more stringent. In Japan, you can't turn off the shutter sound in the iPhone's default camera app to prevent surreptitious photos.

But the changes in the EU are on another level entirely. Thanks to the EU's DMA (Digital Market Act), Apple was forced to open the App Store and so on. European iPhone users can now access third-party app stores, but Apple isn't making it easy, with steep fees and cumbersome rules for anyone who dares to set up a third-party app store. On the bright side, the European Union is getting serious about asking Apple to play by the rules, fining it $2 billion last week for not allowing apps to link to external payment methods.

Once this is sorted out, the advantages for EU users will be clear. Apps will no longer need to be approved by Apple, so all types of apps will be allowed. Additionally, developers of complex apps will be able to put in the years of work required without worrying that Apple may ultimately not allow them into its store.

“The EU’s decision to allow alternative app stores and browser engines is excellent as it increases user choice and competition, potentially lowering prices and promoting innovation. Users can now install apps from sources other than app stores, which may will increase their choice and flexibility,” Zennaxx Technology founder Kunal Vaja told Lifewire via email.

Other improvements include the choice of browsers and their underlying rendering engines (currently, browsers like Chrome are forced to use Apple's WebKit engine, so really, they're just redesigned versions of Safari). You may be able to pay with your iPhone using your bank's app instead of going through Apple Pay.

Apple is very strict about this. These EU-only features only work if your Apple ID is in an EU member state, and your iPhone uses geolocation to check that you're actually in the EU. If you leave the EU, shops will stop trading.

Non-EU countries also have many reasons to update. The most important thing is Stolen Device Protection, which prevents thieves from "peeping" at your iPhone unlock code and resetting your Apple ID by requiring FaceID or Touch ID and a one-hour delay when you're not home.

As mentioned above, alongside today's news are new protections against tomorrow's quantum computer-based attacks. Yes, this is as weird as it sounds, but it's also totally a thing.

Then we get to the big stuff, like new emojis (finally a lime), the ability to summon the assistant by saying "Siri" instead of "Hey Siri," automatic podcast transcription, virtual card numbers for Apple Cash, and a new homepage Digital clock widget for screen.

As we said, this update is a big deal, and even outside the EU, the security improvements alone mean you should update sooner rather than later.