iOS 17.4 beta just landed — here’s all the new features for your iPhone

iOS 17 logo on iPhone
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

iOS 17.3 may have only just arrived, but Apple’s already thinking ahead to the software that lies ahead. The first iOS 17.4 beta has just started rolling out to developers, bringing with it a bunch of new changes and features. Features that could have some lasting impact on how you use your iPhone, provided you live in the right place.

The bulk of IOS 17.4 beta 1 is about how iOS will be changing to comply with the EU Digital Markets Act. But this will only apply if you live in the region, even if you go to Europe on vacation. But other global changes include new emojis, new rules for gaming apps, messaging with Siri and more.

App Store changes for the EU 

The biggest change coming as part of iOS 17.4 involves Apple finally opening the doors for alternative app stores and app installation from places other than the Apple App Store. But only in the EU, because the laws there have forced Apple’s hand — much like it did last year with USB-C.

This being Apple there are restrictions on where those apps can come from alongside new payment structures for developers. The simple explanation is that Apple will still be approving which apps can be installed from outside the app store, in order to minimize the risk of malware and other security threats. So it won’t be a free-for-all the same way it is on Android or Windows. 

EU users will also be able to set a third party app store as their preferred alternative if necessary, while parents will be able to block their kids from installing apps from anywhere but the Apple App Store.

Naturally none of this will be available outside of the EU, presumably until laws similar to the EU Digital Markets act are passed.

Other changes for EU users

EU users will also see a pop-up in Safari that lets them use a new default browser. This change also means alternative browser engines will be allowed, rather than forcing third parties to use the WebKit engine

Third party payments apps and banks will also get access to the NFC chip as part of iOS 17.4 in the EU, meaning you can make contactless payments without using Apple Pay or the Wallet app. The process of making payments will be the same, but you will need to set your default payment method in the Settings app.

Alternate payment options

One big change is that iOS 17.4 means apps will be able to use alternate payment options, rather than Apple’s in-app purchases system. Developers who do this will see a 3% discount in App Store fees, with the option for payments to be made in-app or on an external website.  For security reasons developers will have to use a known and secure payment provider, though.

Game streaming apps are here

After insisting games streaming apps were only allowed on iOS as a web app, Apple has finally relented. This means the likes of Xbox Game Pass and Nvidia GeForce Now will be available as standalone apps in the App Store.

This change also allows for mini-app. Mini-games, chatbots and plug-ins to use Apple's in-app purchase system. And unlike the new rules for the EU, this change will be happening globally.

New emojis 

A bunch of new emojis have been added to iOS 17.4 beta 1, including a brown mushroom, lime, phoenix, a shaking head, a nodding head, and a broken chain. This is technically part of a Unicode 15.1 update that was approved back in September, but iOS 17.4 beta 1 is the first time you can access these new icons on your iPhone. 

Messaging with Siri

The “Automatically Send Messages” setting in Siri & Search has been renamed “Messaging with Siri”, alongside the added option to change what language Siri reads incoming messages in. These include Spanish, French, German, Chinese and others.

This is limited to message playback, though, and won’t change which language Siri listens for and responds in.

Stopwatch Live Activity

Similar to how your iPhone lock screen or Dynamic Island can keep track of timers you set in the Clock app, iOS 17.4 offers the option to show the stopwatch running in the same way. You can pause or start new laps from this interface too, letting you more easily multi-task while timing how long something's taking to finish.

Other changes 

Stolen Device Protection, which launched in IOS 17.3, now includes an option to remove security delays — either all the time or just when you’re away from familiar locations. The Podcasts app offers transcripts, similar to the way lyrics appear in Apple Music, while the “Listen Now” tab in both apps have been renamed “Home”.  Safari also comes with a wider search bar than before, in case that’s been bugging you .

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Tom Pritchard
UK Phones Editor

Tom is the Tom's Guide's UK Phones Editor, tackling the latest smartphone news and vocally expressing his opinions about upcoming features or changes. It's long way from his days as editor of Gizmodo UK, when pretty much everything was on the table. He’s usually found trying to squeeze another giant Lego set onto the shelf, draining very large cups of coffee, or complaining about how terrible his Smart TV is.