The iOS 17.4 update opens up Apple’s walled ecosystem in Europe.

Apple’s iOS 17.4 update is now available, introducing new emoji and a cryptographic security protocol for iMessage, in addition to some major changes to the App Store and contactless payments for the iPhone platform in Europe. Apple is making some 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 tech giants have over businesses and end users .

iOS 17.4 allows third-party developers to offer alternative app marketplaces and app downloads to EU users outside the iOS App Store. Developers who want to take advantage of this will have to go through Apple’s approval process and pay Apple a “Core Technology Fee,” which charges 50 cents per installation once an app reaches 1 million downloads annually.

iPhone owners in the EU will see several update notes specifically mentioning 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 Mobivention enterprise app marketplace will be available on March 7. Epic is also working on releasing the Epic Game Store on iOS in 2024, and software company MacPaw plans to officially launch its Setapp store in April.

iOS 17.4 will allow people in the EU to download alternative browser engines not based on Apple’s WebKit, such as Chrome and Firefox, with a new choice screen in iOS Safari that will ask users to select a default browser when first opened. 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 use the iPhone’s NFC payment chip for contactless payment services alongside 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 that it planned 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 “ existing Home Screen web apps will continue to offer capacity” for users in the EU. However, these homescreen apps will still use WebKit technology, with no option to be powered by third-party browser engines.

The Podcasts app adds automatically generated audio transcripts that people can use to search for specific words or phrases

Beyond the DMA commitments, Apple’s iOS 17.4 update adds a number of new, generally available features that can be enjoyed worldwide. The Podcasts app adds automatically generated audio transcriptions for English, French, German, and Spanish-language podcasts, where you can search for specific phrases or words to jump straight 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, which is said to strengthen end-to-end message encryption against potential quantum computing attacks. No such attacks have been disclosed, but Apple is laying the groundwork to prepare for such a possibility.

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

iPhone 15 devices now display more battery-related information under the battery health settings, including cycle count, date of manufacture, and when the battery was first used. And finally, thanks to the music recognition feature introduced in iOS 14.2, users can now 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 the second-generation iPhone SE. The rollout may be gradual, but you can check if it is available on your device by going to Settings > General > Software Update.

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