Three (and a half) reasons to upgrade to iOS 17.4 right now


Most mid-cycle iOS releases are worth grabbing for the security updates alone, bringing mostly minor features with rarely any need to be in a hurry about it. But every so often an update will arrive that adds fun and important new features that you really will want to try right away—and that’s where iOS 17.4 lands.

Sure, it’s got its share of minor features like renaming the “Listen Now” button in Apple Music to “Home” and a Live Activity for the Clock app’s stopwatch feature. But there are also three big features—four if you live in a European Union member country—that you’ll want right away.

Future-proof iMessage security

Every iMessage you send, whether it’s a text, picture, or video, is end-to-end encrypted and not likely to be cracked by bad actors or state governments. Yet. The ability to decrypt many forms of encryption with quantum computing is growing quickly. So Apple is bumping up iMessage encryption to something called PQ3, which uses “post-quantum cryptography” to protect your messages from prying eyes long into the future.

According to Apple this will make iMessages even more secure as messages sent with Signal, a popular encrypted messaging app and sort of the gold standard of messaging security.

Do you need this much security today? No, but the whole point is that you will want to have it in a few years, and at that point, you can rest easy knowing your old messages are safe because you upgraded your encryption long before it was necessary.

Podcast transcriptions

Why just listen to podcasts when you can read them at the same time? As sort of an inverse to audiobooks, Apple is adding automatically-generated transcriptions to podcasts in iOS 17.4. Podcast authors can let the system generate the transcripts or supply their own. Apple says transcripts will start with the newest episodes first and eventually backfill older episodes, so you may not see it on every podcast right away.

Still, it’s a useful feature for the Podcasts app. If you really want to read the Macworld Podcast instead of listening to it, we won’t hold it against you.


New Emojis

Who doesn’t like new emojis? You can better express yourself in iOS 17.4 with emojis like “head shaking horizontally” and “head shaking vertically” (shaking your head no or nodding in approval), brown mushroom, lime, phoenix, and broken chain.

There are a whole bunch of existing emojis that get alternate facings, too. Like the person walking, running, walking with a cane, etc. With skin color and gender variations, there are 108 variants of those alternate-facing emoji in all.


Major app store and payment changes (EU only)

We’ll call this a half-reason to upgrade because it’s only of significance to those in a country that is a member of the European Union, but for those users, it could be a very big deal.

Apple had until March 6 to comply with the Digital Markets Act (DMA) in the European Union and it requires Apple to implement several major changes. First and foremost, apps must be able to be downloaded from places outside App Store and developers need to be able to offer payment options other than Apple’s in-app purchases for digital goods. Apple also has to allow the NFC chip in iPhones to be used for payment systems other than Apple Pay. And finally, Apple now allows third-party browsers to use their own browser engines instead of WebKit.

These are all specific to iPhones in the European Union, and as such Apple has a new set of terms for developers opting to forgo the App Store. As expected, developers aren’t happy and some major app makers have accused Apple of taking even more money if an app doesn’t use Apple’s App Store or payment processing.

So it’s unclear just how much impact this will have right away, but it does open the door to apps that Apple wouldn’t allow in the App Store or for developers to charge less when they don’t have to pay Apple a 30 percent cut of all transactions for digital content.

The legal saga of Apple’s response to the DMA and its further antitrust challenges across the globe is far from over, so we’ll have to see exactly how this plays out. But in supporting these changes already, Apple has added new features and technology to limit malware on iOS, and that’s good for everyone.


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