macOS Monterey review: The calm after Big Sur
Apple announced macOS 12 Monterey, along with iOS 15, iPadOS 15, watchOS 8, and tvOS 15 during WWDC21. This year’s release comes loaded with small improvements and new features across the OS. We were expecting the lack of major changes in this release. Last year’s macOS 11 Big Sur fully redesigned the entire operating system, so there’s not much Apple could do in one year. Big Sur is the first macOS version M1 Macs can run. If you’re new to the M1 Mac, take a look at the best apps for Apple Silicon Macs and the first 10 things to do with an M1 Mac.
So what’s new, different, or notable in the latest macOS release? Will your machine be supporting it, or will you need to buy a new Mac? What do we think of this update? This is the macOS 12 Monterey full review, the calm after Big Sur.
Navigate this review:
- Will my Mac get a taste of Monterey?
- What’s new
- Personal thoughts
Will my Mac get a taste of Monterey?
Whether your existing Mac supports this new release or not is the first thing you need to find out about macOS 12 Monterey. Below is the complete list of Macs that will receive this update:
- Mac Pro: Late 2013 and later models
- Mac Mini: Late 2014 and later models
- MacBook Air: Early 2015 and later models
- MacBook Pro: Early 2015 and later models
- iMac: Late 2015 and later models
- MacBook: Early 2016 and later models
- iMac Pro: 2017 and later models
Apple is famous for the long years of software support it provides, particularly when it comes to the Mac. Some of these Macs are over eight (!) years old and will still be receiving the latest software bump. It’s very likely your Mac will support Monterey, assuming it’s relatively recent.
If you’re unsure how to update your device, we’ve prepared a guide for you on how to update your Mac.
As we mentioned earlier, macOS 12 Monterey is a relatively small update, when compared to last year’s Big Sur. This doesn’t surprise us at all, considering the complexity of the operating system and the years it takes to build something completely new. So let’s dive right into the change log. Please note some features are not available on all Mac models or in certain regions.
With this release, FaceTime gets a lot of love from Apple. It brings a lot of long overdue additions that make FaceTime a serious competitor in the video conferencing arena. This is especially true in the time of COVID-19 and remote work or learning that we’re living in.
Spatial audio in FaceTime makes conversations sound like they’re occurring face-to-face. Your friends voices will come from the directions they’re positioned on the call respectively. This makes group calls sound significantly more natural. It literally adds more dimensions to the sound, turning the virtual meeting into a life-like one.
Portrait mode in FaceTime is inspired by the Portrait camera effects that have been present on certain iPhones since the iPhone 7 Plus. This feature optionally blurs your background during video calls so you’re in the spotlight. This feature has an API that third-party developers can implement in their apps to take advantage of.
What I dislike about this feature is you can’t force it to work in unsupported apps. So you can’t use it in third-party apps, unless developers choose to support it. It’s a bummer because theoretically Apple could allow this option — it just chooses not to. Most schools and workplaces don’t use FaceTime for formal communications, so this makes the feature useless to me in a professional context.
Another thing I dislike about it is the lack of custom backgrounds. It wouldn’t require the Cupertino tech giant a lot of extra resources to implement this feature. The tougher work was building an algorithm that detects the person and separates them from their backgrounds. Choosing whether the background is a blur or a custom image/video doesn’t require significant coding efforts.
If you’re not sure how to use Portrait mode in FaceTime on macOS 12 Monterey, we’ve prepared a helpful guide for you.
Voice Isolation mode
Voice Isolation is one of two new microphone modes, apart from the Standard mode that has always been the default one. This feature, as its name suggests, filters out any background noise and focuses on your voice, using machine learning. Apple claims that a leaf blower outside or a dog barking in the next room won’t interrupt your call. At first I found that hard to believe, so I had to put it to the test myself.
I once FaceTimed my family while heavy construction work was happening in the same street. They had no clue anything was going on. Another time I picked up a call right next to a loud Turkish wedding, and my friend couldn’t tell either. It was just my voice, plain and simple. I had to switch to the Standard microphone mode for them to fully understand how powerful and effective this feature is. That’s why it has become one of my favorite macOS 12 Monterey and iOS 15 features. You’ll find this hard to believe yourself, so try it out and report back how mind-blown you are.
Wide Spectrum mode
Wide Spectrum is the other microphone mode Apple has added to FaceTime in macOS 12 Monterey and iOS 15. This one is, in a way, the opposite of Voice Isolation. It brings all background sounds to the front, along with your own voice. Apple suggests music lessons as an example of a situation where you could use this feature. The person on the other end of the call will be able to hear an amplified version of what’s happening in the background.
It’s worth mentioning that both new microphone modes have an API that third-party developers can adopt and implement in their apps.
When participating in a group FaceTime call, you can now view the participants in same-size tiles. The grid view can show up to 18 tiles at a time, and it highlights the current speaker to make it easier to know who’s talking. This makes using FaceTime for formal meetings a bit more suitable, knowing that 18 faces will be visible at all times in an organized manner. I personally don’t know of any company that uses FaceTime for communication (maybe Apple itself?), but who knows what the future will bring? New features and options are always welcome additions.
Ever wished you could start a group FaceTime call with all of your friends, including non-Apple users? Wish no more! This feature allows you to share call links with Android and Windows users, so everyone can enjoy a privacy-focused virtual meeting, without even needing to create an account or login. Of course, we’ve prepared a guide for you on how to create and share these links too.
You know how much of a hassle it is to create a link for a video conference, copy it, then paste it into a calendar event you’re filling out. macOS 12 Monterey is here to the rescue with the latest calendar integration. As you create a new event, you’ll be able to generate a FaceTime call link there automatically. Once the event you’ve created is due, you can join the FaceTime call right from the calendar app. It has a new Join button on video conferencing events, whether they’re through FaceTime or not.
SharePlay turns FaceTime into an interactive, fun, and engaging playground for friends and family alike. You know those times, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, when you really want to binge watch a series or party with your favorite people, but you just can’t? Or maybe you want to share your screen to show a relative how to do a certain task one their iPhone?
SharePlay allows you to teleport into other people’s living rooms and watch content from the TV app together, through FaceTime. It also supports Apple Music, so you can all listen to and control the same queue remotely. SharePlay has an API that third-party developers can implement and take advantage of. So while only select Apple apps are supported for now, you could see some of your favorite streaming services adding support down the road. It’s worth mentioning that all FaceTime participants need to have their own subscriptions to the respective services to participate.
SharePlay has multi-device support so you can FaceTime through your Mac while watching content on Apple TV or listening to music on HomePod. It also has a smart volume feature. Apple describes it as follows:
Dynamically responsive volume controls automatically adjust audio so you can hear your friends even during a loud scene or climactic chorus.
If you’re unsure how to use SharePlay, we’ve written a guide to help you get started.
“It brings a lot of long overdue additions that make FaceTime a serious competitor in the video conferencing arena.”
Apple seems to be focusing on smoother and improved communication systems with this release. Which totally makes sense, considering how people are resorting to online and virtual methods nowadays. Just like FaceTime, Messages gets its fair share of improvements on macOS 12 Monterey.
Shared with You
Shared with You is a new way to make sure you don’t forget checking out links sent to you. Almost all of us sometimes receive music or TV recommendations, or maybe just interesting articles and cat videos, during our busy work hours. We tend to forget to check them out in the evening, and if we do actually remember to check them out, digging for and finding them is a pain. This feature will be the end of the “I forgot to check it out” excuses — at least for iMessage users.
That’s right, this feature is an iMessage exclusive, so if you don’t primarily use the Messages app, it’s kind of pointless. Unfortunately, Apple doesn’t provide third-party developers with an API for this feature, so it can’t be implemented in other instant messaging (IM) apps. This doesn’t make a lot of sense, considering most people around the globe don’t depend on iMessage as their primary means of IM. But this is what the Apple Gods have decided to bless us with for the time being, so there’s nothing we can do apart from sending feedback.
SharePlay surfaces links received through the Messages app in their respective apps. So if someone sends you a song on Apple Music, you’ll find it waiting for you in the Music app, in a new Shared with You section inside the Listen Now tab. The feature works similarly with Apple Podcasts, TV, and News. Other links that don’t apply will show up on the Safari Start Page.
Shared with You also surfaces received images in the Photos app, so it’s not only limited to links. Personally I don’t use the feature because most of my contacts aren’t on iMessage. We’ve prepared for you a more detailed guide on how to use this feature, if you’re not sure how it works.
One thing that used to bother me a lot, both on my MacBook Air and iPhone, is the way iMessage handles groups of photos. I use iMessage with a few friends and family members of mine. Whether you’re sending or receiving a bunch of photos together, they’re going to line up vertically. This clutters up the chat and makes scrolling through them a hassle.
Thankfully macOS 12 Monterey fixes this issue with photo collections. When someone sends more than one photo, they get organized neatly in a collage form that doesn’t take as much space. You can just swipe through them horizontally if you send or receive over a certain large number of photos in a row.
Speaking of photos, you now also get a save button right next to received photos, so you can save them to your library with a single click!
“Apple seems to be focusing on smoother and improved communication systems with this release.”
Safari in macOS 12 Monterey gets you wanting to explore the web more than ever. It comes with a refreshed design and options that give users more control over how the app works and looks.
Streamlined tab bar
The tab bar now offers a compact design option. This allows for more of the webpages to appear at once. The new bar also adapts to a website’s colors and changes accordingly. Think of it as your own digital chameleon pet. It makes Safari blend with the visited webpage and disappear in a way, rather than having obvious borders.
These options can be controlled in Safari’s preferences. So if you’re not a fan of the change, you can always revert to the old style from macOS 11 Big Sur.
When it comes to new features on our favorite operating systems, more is more! Safari now gets a more menu button on the active tab. Buttons like Share, Translate, Privacy Report, and others hide under this menu, so the tab doesn’t look cluttered with endless buttons.
Redesigns always bring joy to my heart — even if they’re less practical, generally speaking. I get bored of UIs quickly and always welcome design changes across apps and OS’s. Apart from the compact tab bar visual changes — and the vibrant adaptive colors it comes in — the tabs themselves receive some updates. They’re now rounder and more defined, and they fluidly stretch or shrink when removing or adding new ones respectively.
Speaking of tabs, Apple has added a way to create multiple Safari “profiles” — tab groups. This is a feature I’m personally a big fan of and use on a daily basis. Tab groups allow you to “bookmark” multiple webpages and categorize them in individual groups that you can name.
So for example, you can create an Entertainment tab group and add to it your favorite entertaining websites. This lets you access them all in one place, through a single click. Another tab group could be Work — add to it all of the websites you depend on during your work day, such as team communication services and so on.
Tab groups sync across all of your updated Apple devices, so you only need to set them up once. They’re very handy to separate work, personal, and other categories of websites you frequently visit. They can safely be called Bookmarks 2.0 because they truly take the original bookmark folders to the next level.
Privacy and security
Apple has added new features to protect the privacy of Safari users. It explains them as follows:
- Intelligent Tracking Prevention now also prevents trackers from profiling you using your IP address.
- Safari automatically upgrades sites known to support HTTPS from insecure HTTP.
Autofill 2FA from Keychain
For years, one of the features I had been anticipating was 2-factor authentication (2FA) code support in Apple Keychain. macOS 12 Monterey finally granted me this wish. It allows you to add regenerating, time-based, one-time passwords (OTP) to new and existing accounts saved in Keychain. So now instead of needing to launch a separate 2FA app or use a Safari extension, you just use Touch ID to fill in your username, password, and 2FA code in a website. Less time, less effort!
“It comes with a refreshed design and options that give users more control over how the app works and looks.”
Do Not Disturb (DND) has existed on most Apple operating systems for years. It had a somewhat basic functionality, when juxtaposed with people’s needs nowadays. This is why Focus is one of the most notable features macOS 12 Monterey.
This feature replaces the old DND system with new multi-profile modes that match every mood or activity throughout your day. When you’re working, there are certain apps you would want to whitelist, such as Mail. However, when you’re sleeping or meditating, you wouldn’t want work emails to come through and notify you, so Focus allows you to finally achieve that.
Instead of having one set of whitelisted apps and people, now you get to create infinite lists through multiple Focus modes. You can name each, give it a specific accent color, and a unique icon that matches the vibe of said mode. Apple provides you with a few modes, such as Work, Personal, Fitness, and more. But you also get to create and set up your custom ones.
Focus syncs across all of your updated and connected Apple devices. So whether you toggle a mode on your Mac, iPhone, iPad, or Apple Watch, it’s going to reflect that everywhere. You can optionally share your Focus on/off status with your iMessage contacts so they’re aware of that before messaging you. Contacts can also bypass your silenced notifications and send a message through in case of urgency.
Apple has provided third-party developers with an API for the status sharing feature. So you could be seeing your favorite IM apps eventually adopting and enabling it. It’s worth mentioning that status sharing only mentions whether Focus is on or off to others, and not the Focus mode’s type you’re using.
Make sure to check out our detailed, complete guide on how to use Focus across devices on iOS 15 and macOS 12 Monterey.
“This feature replaces the old DND system with new multi-profile modes that match every mood or activity throughout your day.”
We love a redesign, don’t we? Notifications get tweaked and bring some handy additions in this release!
- Notifications now show larger app icons and contact photos.
- You can now temporarily mute any app for an hour or the rest of the day.
- If a notification thread is very active and you’re not interacting with it, you’ll get a muting suggestion.
- Notifications from communication apps now prioritize contact photos over app icons when it comes to their size on the banner.
- Time Sensitive notifications will always come through, if you allow them to, so you won’t miss out on any important updates, even if you’re using a Focus mode.
I particularly love how contact photos are now brought to the front. It makes recognizing whom a message is from instantly, without needing to focus on the sender’s name.
In the Notes app, you can now use #tags to better organize your content. This comes with a #tag browser in the sidebar of the app to help you find what you’re looking for with a few clicks. Additionally, Smart Folders will automatically group your notes based on #tags to further make your life easier.
Collaboration has always been one of my favorite features across Apple productivity apps. It works seamlessly and syncs instantly. With this release, you can now @mention other collaborators inside a note to notify them about a certain update, right in its context.
AirPlay to Mac
If you’ve read my guide on how to use AirPlay on Mac, then you’ll realize how much this feature means to me. It’s one of the features I had really been hoping Apple would add to macOS, while not expecting that to actually happen. I was very surprised when I learned it’s finally here. While I don’t use it everyday, when I do need it from time to time, using it is as simple as you’d expect Apple features and implementations to be.
This is a feature I’ve been using at least once a week since I first installed macOS 12 Monterey beta, back in June. The way you can just select and copy or interact with text on photos, online or otherwise, is a time saver. Gone are the days of manually typing text while taking glances at a certain photo. Uploading photos that include sensitive information to online optical character recognition (OCR) services isn’t the fastest or wisest idea either.
The Mac has had Automator for years, but it’s not the most average-user-friendly app. Apple finally ports the iOS Shortcuts app to the Mac with macOS 12 Monterey. While it has its limitations, like the lack of automations, it syncs fully with that on iOS and iPadOS. So your shortcuts on other devices will all find their way to the Mac and vice versa, thanks to iCloud sync. It’s worth noting that you can convert your existent Automator workflows to shortcuts, if you want to make a complete shift.
For a deep dive into Shortcuts on macOS 12 Monterey, make sure to check the complete guide we’ve prepared for you.
Maps on macOS 12 Monterey gets a globe view that allows you to hover over the planet. However, what caught my attention the most in this updated app is the new detailed view of certain cities. Apple has added some very realistic, 3D views of some cities, such as London and San Fransisco. While I live in none of the few cities that support this feature, it’s entertaining and informative viewing these complex structures.
iCloud+ brings new privacy-focused features to the existent storage expansion subscription service. These include Apple’s limited VPN service, Private Relay, Hide My Email, and HomeKit Secure Video. While I would love to use Private Relay most out of the new features, it’s not supported in Turkey where I live. I don’t use any HomeKit-enabled security cameras, so HomeKit Secure Video isn’t of interest to me. Hide My Email is a handy feature that allows you to create unlimited, random aliases to avoid revealing your actual email to websites or people.
Make sure to check out our detailed guide on what iCloud+ is and why you should care about it.
macOS 12 Monterey brings some other features that either haven’t been added to the latest build just yet or don’t interest me as much. These changes include:
- Orange microphone privacy indicator in the menubar when apps are recording audio.
- Designating Recovery Contacts who can help you reset your account password in case you get locked out.
- The Books app gets a long overdue redesign.
- AirPods Pro and AirPods Max get proper ‘Find My’ support.
- You can now add new Game Center friends from your Mac.
- Package detection on your doorstep if you use HomeKit Secure Video.
- On-device, offline Dictation without the 60 second limit.
- You can now erase all content on your Mac while retaining the operating system, similar to the process on iOS. So resetting your Mac before reselling it will now be an easy task.
- Low Power Mode helps extend your battery life.
- New Memoji outfits and configurations.
- #Tags in the Reminds app similar to those in Notes.
- Siri can now maintain context.
- System-wide translations, accessible through selecting text.
- Universal Control lets you move your cursor and drag-and-drop content across up to three Mac and/or iPad devices.
I’ve been using macOS 12 Monterey beta on my daily driver MacBook Air M1 since June. While it doesn’t bring as much excitement as when macOS 11 Big Sur was first released, it’s still a decent software bump. It focuses on features that make remote work and education more manageable routines, and it fixes some of the annoyances of past macOS versions by tweaking certain elements here and there.
My feature wishlist is slowly shrinking with every new software release, and macOS 12 Monterey ticks off a few of the features I’ve been desperately waiting for. I can’t imagine what Apple has in store for the next release — macOS 13. WWDC22 is around eight months away, so it’s still too early to start speculating and anticipating.
To me, macOS 12 Monterey doesn’t feel like a major yearly update. For obvious reasons, macOS 11 Big Sur felt like a completely new experience when I first used it, because it is, in fact, a totally different experience. I don’t expect to feel the same way about a future macOS release anytime soon. These rare full-system updates come once every several years. In a nutshell, macOS 12 Monterey is the calm after Big Sur.
If you’re interested in reading more, we’ve written about the three new macOS Monterey features that we love and the three changes that we’re still waiting for.
What do you think of this update? Were you underwhelmed by it? And what are your favorite macOS 12 Monterey features? Let us know in the comments section below.