Apple Releases RCs for iOS and iPadOS 17.4, Beta 5 for macOS, and Beta 4 for visionOS 1.1

One week on from the previous beta, Apple has released to developers and public beta testers the Release Candidates for iOS 17.4 and iPadOS 17.4, the final versions before the stable releases expected early next week. These RCs come five weeks after the stable releases of iOS and iPadOS 17.3.

Also released are the RC versions of iOS and iPadOS 16.7.6 and iOS and iPadOS 15.8.2 for older iPhone and iPad models. Not yet ready for public release are macOS 14.4, tvOS 17.4, and watchOS 10.4, for which the fifth betas have been released. Finally, the fourth beta for visionOS 1.1, the operating system for Apple’s mixed reality headset, the Vision Pro, has been made available.

iOS 17.4 and iPadOS 17.4 introduce a series of radical changes in how the App Store and apps will operate within the European Union. For the first time in 16 years since its introduction, the App Store will no longer be the only way to install applications on iPhones and iPads.

To comply with the Digital Markets Act (DMA), the European legislation designed by lawmakers to ensure fair and open digital markets, Apple has paved the way for “sideloading,” that is, the ability to download, install, and update apps on iPhones and iPads not just through the App Store but also through third-party stores. This includes support for alternative payment systems, support for third-party browsers (engines included, without the necessity to use WebKit), and NFC access for banks and third-party payment providers.

These alternative app marketplaces will function as an iOS app and will allow the installation of other iOS apps on an iPhone or iPad. Any developer will be able to create their own app marketplace provided they meet a set of criteria in terms of customer experience, fraud prevention, customer support, and more. Apple will offer developers a new framework and API for creating alternative app marketplaces.

To create a marketplace, developers will need to provide Apple with a letter of credit from an A-rated financial institution (or equivalent from S&P, Fitch, or Moody’s) of €1,000,000 to establish adequate financial means to ensure financial support for other developers and users. This letter of credit will be automatically renewed on an annual basis.

Additionally, these versions also bring 118 new emojis from the Unicode 15.1 package, transcriptions for podcasts in the Podcasts app, and support for using SharePlay with HomePod. The “Stopwatch” function of the Clock app, like the Timer, is now also displayed in the Dynamic Island and on the lock screen via Live Activity. There’s a new welcome screen featuring the user’s profile picture displayed when an updated iPhone is restarted for the first time.