iOS 17.4 and iPadOS 17.4 Add Podcast Transcripts, Fix Zero-Day Vulnerabilities – TidBITS

It’s update time again, with Apple releasing iOS 17.4 and iPadOS 17.4, along with updates to older versions of iOS and iPadOS. Although the marquee feature is support for transcripts in Apple Podcasts, there are quite a few more feature tweaks, bug fixes, and security updates under the hood, along with the necessary underpinnings to support the App Store changes required by—and available only in—the European Union.

Other Operating Systems

I’m surprised Apple didn’t release macOS 14.4 Sonoma, watchOS 10.4, and other updates, but I’m sure those will appear shortly. The impetus for pushing iOS 17.4 and iPadOS 17.4 out first may have been to fix a pair of ugly zero-day kernel vulnerabilities that would allow attackers to bypass kernel memory protections. That’s a big deal, and Apple acknowledges that the vulnerabilities have been exploited in the wild, though it doesn’t credit any particular security researcher or team.

Apple also released updates to iOS 16.7.6 and iPadOS 16.7.6 to address one of the two zero-days. In both cases, Apple says that additional CVE entries will be coming soon, presumably once the updates to macOS and watchOS appear.

Finally, Apple went even further back and released iOS 15.8.2 and iPadOS 15.8.2, saying only that they include bug fixes, not security updates.

Transcripts in Apple Podcasts

The most prominent feature of the 17.4 updates is transcripts in Apple’s Podcasts app. Much like the lyrics in the Music app, the full-text transcript scrolls in sync with the podcast’s audio, and you can tap anywhere in the transcript to play the audio from that spot. Even better, you can search the transcripts for a word or phrase—I hope we’ll see an app or future version of Podcasts that can search across multiple podcast episodes to find specific mentions.

I continue to enjoy and recommend Andrew Hickey’s A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs podcast—I’m actually only up to Song #70, “Johnny B. Goode” by Chuck Berry.

As long as shows are in the Apple Podcasts catalog and meet Apple’s requirements, transcripts will be generated automatically, and they’ll be available for new episodes shortly after they appear. The transcripts seem pretty good, though they sometimes chose the wrong homophone—you can see both “Jean” and the correct “Gene” in the screenshot above. There’s also no indication of who is speaking on podcasts with multiple people. Unsurprisingly, the transcripts frequently failed to open or close quotes properly. Podcasters can also provide their own transcripts via RSS.

Apple is transcribing older podcasts over time, a monumental task given that the Apple Podcasts catalog contains over 2.6 million podcasts with over 92 million episodes (Podcast Industry Insights courtesy of Daniel J. Lewis). For now, transcripts are available in English-, French-, German-, and Spanish-language podcasts, but note that there’s no translation from one language to another.

EU Digital Markets Act Changes

It’s impossible to predict how the changes in iOS 17.4 required by the EU’s Digital Markets Act will impact the everyday user experience for European users (see “The EU Forces Open Apple’s Walled Garden,” 29 January 2024). Even that assumes Apple’s new rules withstand the inevitable challenges from those unhappy with them. 

For now, European users will receive a new pop-up message in Safari asking them to choose a default browser. Browser companies may also release versions with non-WebKit engines. Alternative payment methods for in-app purchases may become a thing, and European users will be able to make contactless payments without going through Apple’s Wallet app.

Perhaps the most significant requirement—that Apple allow alternative marketplaces for iOS apps—is coming soon. MacPaw, the Ukrainian company behind the Setapp subscription service for Macs, has announced Setapp Mobile, a version of Setapp for iOS apps. When I expressed uncertainty about what it would mean for a developer to join Setapp, MacPaw founder and CEO Oleksandr Kosovan replied in email:

Apple’s new business terms in the European Union may not favor developers of large, popular free apps with millions of installs, apps with different monetization models. However, our model caters perfectly to app developers across various categories, particularly those that provide long-term value to their users.

With Setapp’s model, if an app is frequently used over a long term, a developer can generate an additional income stream. Adopting these new terms could prove more profitable for them. We are carefully assessing how Apple’s Core Technology Fee aligns with Setapp’s business model to ensure our service remains attractive and profitable for small to mid-size developers.

I hope our European readers will report back on how things change from their perspective.

Other Enhancements

Beyond podcast transcripts, iOS 17.4 and iPadOS 17.4 provide a smattering of other improvements:

Stolen Device Protection now includes an option (in Settings > Face ID/Touch ID & Passcode > Stolen Device Protection) to require a security delay at all times, not just when you’re in unfamiliar locations (see “Turn On Stolen Device Protection in iOS 17.3,” 25 January 2024). This increases security—a thief couldn’t go to a familiar location to turn off security features—at the cost of convenience.
On iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Pro models, the Battery Health screen shows battery cycle count, manufacture date, and first use. Access it from Settings > Battery > Battery Health.
You can set up virtual card numbers with Apple Cash to use it for payments at merchants that don’t accept Apple Pay, presumably both in person and with Safari AutoFill. You’ll be prompted to set it up when you view the Apple Cash card in the Wallet app; you can also tap the ••• button in the upper-right corner and then Card Number to access a setup link.
After asking Siri “What’s playing?” or using the Shazam music recognition button in Control Center, you can now save identified songs to your Apple Music Playlists and Library, as well as Apple Music Classical. If the Add To button doesn’t work on the first try, use the Open button and tap through the Apple Music welcome screen first.
As always happens around this time, Apple added newly approved emoji, along with the option to display numerous people and body emoji in either direction. Yay?
Call Identification displays the Apple-verified business name, logo, and department name when available. I’m guessing a business acquires these verifications through Apple Business Connect.
In Messages for Business, updates can provide “trusted information for order status, flight notifications, fraud alerts or other transactions you opt into.” I’m not sure I’ve encountered Messages for Business in the real world, so if you have, let us know in the comments how it has worked for you.
Siri provides a new option to “announce messages you receive in any supported language.” Bonus points to anyone who can figure out where this option is and how to enable it.
On the iPad, you can now display just icons for Favorites bar items—turn the option on in Settings > Safari > Favorites Bar Appearance. Folders still have names.

Bug Fixes

Apple notes only two bug fixes in the release notes, the first of which caused contact pictures in Find My to be blank. The second bug is highly specific—Apple says iOS 17.4 “fixes an issue for Dual SIM users where the phone number changes from primary to secondary and is visible to a group they have messaged.”

Update Advice

I strongly encourage everyone to install the iOS/iPadOS 17.4 and iOS/iPadOS 16.7.6 updates right away because of the fixes for the zero-day vulnerabilities. Since Apple doesn’t specify what changed with the v15 updates, you’re better off waiting a week or two to make sure the fixes don’t cause any new problems.

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