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Apple Creates “Two-Tier” iPhone Experience with iOS 17.4 Update

Everything new with iOS 17.4, including European Union Exclusive Features

With the release of iOS 17.4, Apple is introducing a suite of new features and updates which cumulatively are some of the biggest changes Apple has rolled out to its Operating System in recent years. This update, available globally to all devices supporting iOS 17 — from the iPhone XS through to the iPhone 15 Pro Max — brings in changes to how App Stores work, the Browser Engine on the iPhone, new iMessage encryptions and so much more.

However, many people across the world won’t be able to enjoy many of these new features as Apple has decided to keep many of the features EU only. It will be interesting to see how other markets react to having inferior iPhone experiences to what the EU countries will be getting. It will also be interesting to see how this plays out in the future.

iOS 17.4 EU-Specific Changes for the iPhone

The spotlight feature of iOS 17.4 is its compliance with the EU’s Digital Markets Act (DMA). This legislation aims to democratise the digital market, challenging the monopoly of tech giants and offering a fairer playing field for businesses and end-users alike. In alignment with the DMA, iOS 17.4 introduces the following key changes exclusive to the EU:

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  • Sideloading and Alternate App Stores: For the first time, iOS 17.4 opens the gates for alternative app marketplaces and direct app downloads from third-party sources. This groundbreaking change allows developers to offer their apps outside the traditional confines of the iOS App Store. However, to leverage this, developers must navigate Apple’s approval process and agree to pay a “Core Technology Fee,” set at 50 euro cents for each install post the threshold of 1 million annual downloads. As usual, Apple has set caveats to try and discourage developers while eating as much money as possible from the changes.
  • Browser Engine Choices: Another significant shift comes with the option for users to download and use alternative browser engines, moving away from the obligatory use of Apple’s WebKit. This update promises a choice screen within iOS Safari, prompting users to select their default browser upon its first launch. For years, the browser experience across the iPhone has been very pathetic as Apple has forced all browsers to use its own engine. This will now change. Though official releases from alternative browsers like Chrome and Firefox are pending, this change hints at a more open and competitive browser market within the iOS ecosystem.
  • Contactless Payment Alternatives: It is crazy that for years, only Apple could use the NFC chip in the iPhone. iOS 17.4 finally extends the functionality of the NFC chip to third-party developers, enabling contactless payment options beyond Apple Pay and Wallet within the European Economic Area. Developers will be able to build contactless solutions that take advantage of the NFC Chip to do whatever they please including payment solutions. This development opens the door for a variety of contactless payment services, with user settings providing a list of apps requesting access to this feature.
  • Progressive Web Apps (PWAs): Contrary to initial announcements of dropping support for PWAs in the EU, Apple has decided to maintain the existing home screen web apps capability for its users. Despite this concession, these apps will continue to operate using WebKit technology, without the option for third-party browser engine support.

It is crazy that some of these features had to be made available thanks to EU’s laws. Remember it is thanks to EU requirements for chargers that Apple was forced to move from Lightning to USB Type-C. It is also crazy that Apple decided to keep many of these features EU-only, while they’re progressive things that need to reach more users across the world.

Hopefully, user demand and feedback will make iOS 18 much more open and bring these features to more people across the world. Having good browser options, having good NFC payment options, having the ability to access third-party app stores and sideload apps shouldn’t be something that Apple keeps only for EU customers, no matter the laws of the land.

What everyone else gets with iOS 17.4:

Beyond the EU-specific changes, iOS 17.4 brings a variety of enhancements and new features to the global user base. You can expect these changes to your iPhone wherever in the world you may be. The update is currently out, and you should update as soon as possible

  1. Battery Health Updates for iPhone 15: The battery section in Settings for iPhone 15 models has been redesigned for better clarity, with the cycle count information being relocated. iPhone 15 batteries are now expected to retain up to 80% of their original capacity after 1,000 complete charge cycles under optimal conditions.
  2. Music App Enhancements: The “Listen Now” tab is now renamed to “Home”. Apple is also introducing new functionalities for adding Shazam songs to playlists are part of the Apple Music app’s makeover, aiming to enhance user interaction with their favourite tunes.
  3. Introduction of New Emoji: iOS 17.4 incorporates new emoji, aligning with the latest Unicode standard to enrich text-based communication with more expressive and diverse icons.
  4. iMessage PQ3 Encryption: Apple is also very proud of a new encryption standard for iMessage, PQ3, which the company says will bolster the security of messages, ensuring that personal and sensitive information is better protected than ever before. They have a whole paper on the same.
  5. Here’s more: Siri Multilingual Support for reading messages, New Widgets options for the Clock App, new Stolen Device Protection enhancements, Updates to CarPlay and FaceTime, New AirDrop collaboration features in Notes, and Firmware Update for AirPods with USB-C.

iOS 17.4 represents a significant update to Apple as a company. It is their biggest ever divide for its iPhone market. It creates a big rift in how users will receive updates and features, and how users will interact with the same hardware. It is crazy, and will probably be very tasking to the company in the long run when maintaining devices, and providing customer care services. An easier way would be to enable every customer have the same experiences. Let’s wait and see.

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