macOS Monterey: Release date, features, privacy, and more

macOS Monterey: Release date, features, privacy, and more

Originally unveiled in June 2021 at Apple’s virtual WWDC event, macOS Monterey is the next iteration of macOS. The current official version of macOS is Big Sur, which saw huge visual changes and usability improvements. In comparison, macOS Monterey is a smaller update, focussing on performance and privacy. In addition, Safari is also getting a fresh coat of paint and a few nifty new features.

For those that are adventurous, Apple has the usual public beta available for macOS Monterey. The beta is relatively stable at this point, but there are still a few lingering bugs. If you want to know all about macOS Monterey, but don’t want to risk the beta, we’ve got you covered. In this article we’ll run down everything you need to know about macOS Monterey: release date, new features, and more.

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When will macOS Monterey release?

macOS Monterey is expected to be released in Fall 2021. Apple typically pushes out their newest version of macOS with hardware updates. This year we’re expecting to see new 14″ and 16″ MacBook Pros with Apple silicon inside, perhaps the upcoming M1X chip.

While we don’t know the exact release date for macOS Monterey, we can speculate based on rumors surrounding the launch of those new MacBook Pros. Current leaks suggest that Apple may hold three separate Fall 2021 events, with the redesigned MacBook Pros debuting in the third and final event. If these leaks are any indication, this would place the third event in late October or early November. Overall, this lines up very well with last year’s timeline for macOS Big Sur, which was released on November 12th, 2020.

Will my Mac get the macOS Monterey update?

macOS Monterey is compatible with many of the Macs that were able to run macOS Big Sur. Unfortunately, some older Macs from 2013 and 2014 aren’t getting macOS Monterey. Here’s a list of all the Macs slated to get macOS Monterey this fall:

  • iMac – Late 2015 and later
  • iMac Pro – 2017 and later
  • MacBook Air – Early 2015 and later
  • MacBook Pro – Early 2015 and later
  • Mac Pro – Late 2013 and later
  • Mac mini – Late 2014 and later
  • MacBook – Early 2016 and later

Macs compatible with Monterey

These are the Macs that were compatible with the macOS Big Sur update:

  • 2015 and later MacBook
  • 2013 and later MacBook Air
  • Late 2013 and later MacBook Pro
  • 2014 and later iMac
  • 2017 and later iMac Pro
  • 2014 and later Mac mini
  • 2013 and later Mac Pro

Notice that the 2013 and 2014 MacBook Air, 2014 iMac, as well as 2013 and 2014 MacBook Pros are at the end of their update life cycle with Big Sur.

Which beta versions have been released so far?

Apple has released six beta versions of macOS Monterey to developers and five versions to public beta testers. I’ve been running the public beta on my 2018 MacBook Pro and the fifth beta is quite stable. There are a few bugs with search failing to work in Finder and a few crashes here and there, but it’s not a bad experience as a daily driver at this point.

In the third developer beta, Apple introduced a number of refinements, including a redesigned Safari search bar and tab interface, making the design introduced in earlier betas optional (see below for more on Safari).

The fourth developer beta brought Live Text to Intel-based Macs, which was previously listed as exclusive to M1 machines. Live Text allows users to directly interact with text within images, such as phone numbers and addresses. With Live Text, text inside images also becomes selectable, allowing users to cut and copy the text into apps. The fifth developer beta also included new icons for Apple’s iWork apps.

What are the big features coming in macOS Monterey?

Universal Control

If you own multiple Macs, or a Mac plus iPad combo, this feature makes life a lot more convenient. You can now use a single keyboard and mouse/trackpad to control multiple Mac or iPad devices. This is especially useful for those of us that use our iPad as a sidecar for our desktop Mac or MacBook Pro. Now you can even drag and drop text or multimedia content between your Mac and iPad.

Mac and iPad side by side using the same controls

Perhaps the best part of Universal Control is that it just works. You don’t need to set up anything or enable settings on either device. Place your Mac and iPad near one another and you can seamlessly move the cursor from one device to the other automatically. This feature could easily revolutionize workflows for many power users that rely on a full suite of Apple devices.

AirPlay to Mac

AirPlay has been around for quite a while at this point, so most people know how it works. You can send audio from your Mac or iOS device to a nearby speaker that’s AirPlay compatible. With macOS Monterey, you’ll also be able to use your Mac as an AirPlay receiver. This is an excellent feature if you want to send music from your iPhone to a nearby Mac for a more robust audio experience. In fact, you can even add your Mac as a speaker to any AirPlay 2 multi-room audio setup.

AirPlay to Macbook as receiver

Audio isn’t the only thing you can share with the new AirPlay to Mac feature. You can also extend or mirror any Apple device’s display to your Mac. This means you can also use one Mac as an external display for another, something very useful for those with an iMac and MacBook. The new AirPlay to Mac feature works either wirelessly or wired via USB-C, which will be preferable to reduce latency when listening to music.

AirPlay to Mac works with the 2018 or later MacBook Pro or MacBook Air, 2019 or later iMac or Mac Pro, the iMac Pro, and the 2020 or later Mac mini.

Safari UI update and Tab Groups

With macOS Monterey, Safari is getting a distinctly different look. The tab bar now matches the color profile of the site you’re currently visiting. Tabs also blend in with the webpage background better and have been redesigned as floating bubbles. Web pages also fill the entire screen in Safari, with the borders of the page pushed to the boundary of the Safari window.

Safari Tab Groups Monterey

Aside from aesthetic improvements, Safari also has some new usability features. Tab Groups allow users to save a group of tabs together for later viewing, so they don’t take up all of the space on your tab bar. This feature is incredibly useful if you often need a particular group of tabs open for work, you can save these in a tab group and only open this group when at work. To access Tab Groups, simply click on the down arrow located next to bookmarks.

Safari redesigned with color matching address bar

Tab groups can be shared with others and accessed on any Apple device running iOS 15, iPadOS 15, or macOS Monterey.

FaceTime improvements and SharePlay

FaceTime is one of Apple’s signature services. For many macOS and iOS users, FaceTime and iMessage are the biggest reasons they’re locked into the Apple ecosystem. With macOS Monterey, FaceTime is getting a number of sweet features. Perhaps the most intriguing new feature is SharePlay. SharePlay allows users to watch content with their friends over FaceTime, with synced playback and volume controls. In fact, the volume will even adjust to allow you to continue talking while you enjoy your movie or show. If music is more your thing, you can also listen to an Apple Music playlist with friends and users can add tracks to the queue as you go.

SharePlay options in Monterey

If you need to get some group work done, you can also share your screen in FaceTime to collaborate on documents, spreadsheets, and more. To make the SharePlay experience even better, FaceTime now supports Spatial Audio. With Spatial Audio, your FaceTime call quality will be better than ever. Spatial Audio makes it so the voices on the screen sound like they’re coming from the direction where the particular person is situated in your grid view.

FaceTime with non-Apple users on Monterey

You can even FaceTime with non-iPhone users in macOS Monterey, a feature we’ve been waiting on for quite a while. To FaceTime with an Android or PC user, simply create a FaceTime link and share it with those you want to join your FaceTime call. Users can join the call from the Chrome or Edge browsers on an Android phone or on their PC. You can even run Windows on your Mac using Parallels Desktop 17 and then FaceTime with yourself if you want.

Monterey portrait mode in Facetime

If you like to FaceTime with large groups of people, the new Grid View shows everyone on the call with equally sized tiles. For users with M1 Macs, you also get Portrait Mode in FaceTime, enabling you to blur out your background while on a call.

Live Text

The new Live Text feature in macOS Monterey allows users to interact with text found in photos. You can copy addresses, telephone numbers, and more from a simple photo. One of the ways I use this the most is when I’m taking a picture of a receipt. If you send a package for instance, you can photograph the receipt, click on the tracking number and automatically track your package in Safari.
Copying address form image in Monterey

Even though Google Photos has had this feature for quite some time, it’s still nice to see it come to Mac users in Monterey. Live Text works with handwritten information as well, so you can jot something down with a pen and take a picture with your iPhone to create a digital copy to transfer information.

Visual Lookup

Continuing with the machine learning features, Visual Lookup allows you to get information about important features in a given photo. You can right click on a photo in Safari or locally on your Mac and choose the ‘Look Up’ option. If there are any key features of the photo, you’ll get a pop-up that displays useful information.

Golden Gate Bridge with Visual Lookup

Currently, Visual Lookup can recognize landmarks, plants, animal breeds, cloud types, and more. Surprisingly, this feature is available on both Intel and M1 Macs.

Shortcuts

If you’ve used an iPhone for a while, Shortcuts are already quite familiar. Apple introduced Shortcuts for iOS in iOS 13 back in 2019. The basic idea of Shortcuts is to create routines that allow you to get more out of your Apple devices. One of the big selling points of Shortcuts is increased productivity, so it makes sense to bring the app to macOS with Monterey.

Shortcuts app in Monterey

You can get Shortcut suggestions from the Gallery and there are new Mac-specific suggestions to increase productivity on your desktop or laptop. Shortcuts are well integrated into macOS Monterey and can be run from the Dock, menu bar, Finder, Spotlight, or by using Siri, and they’re also universal. Shortcuts made on your iPhone can be used on your Mac and vice versa. If you’re a pro user, you can also integrate Shortcuts with shell scripts for even more functionality.

Any other smaller features/changes worth knowing about?

We’ve covered the really big stuff coming with macOS Monterey, but what about the smaller features you might use as well? Here are some of the useful features in Monterey that aren’t getting as much hype, but are still worth knowing about:

  • Finder – Finder offers a pie chart progress window when copying files, and the “go to folder” has been improved with a new look and autocomplete engine. There’s also now an iCloud collaboration folder that houses shared documents. Finder windows now automatically resize when moving between displays, improving multitasking.
  • Focus – Match your devices to your mindset with Focus. Automatically filter notifications based on what you’re currently doing. Turn on ‘Do Not Disturb’ to switch everything off, or choose from a suggested Focus for work, personal time, sleep, fitness, gaming, reading, or driving.
  • Low Power Mode – You can extend your MacBook’s battery life with Low Power Mode, which reduces system clock speed and display brightness to extend battery life.
  • Erase All Contents and Settings – There’s a new option to erase all user data and user-installed apps from the system without having to reinstall macOS.
  • Memoji – Memoji represents more of your look and style with new customizations, including oxygen tubes, cochlear implants, and a soft helmet for headwear.
  • Books App – Enjoy a refreshed version of the app that’s easier and more intuitive to use. Access features like Reading Goals, Want to Read, and Reading Now, previously available only on iOS. Search is also more intuitive.
  • Apple ID – You can set an Account Recovery Contact for your Apple ID in case you forget your password, and there’s a Digital Legacy so you can set someone as a Legacy Contact that can access your account when you die.
  • Apple Card – Advanced Fraud Protection lets Apple Card users change their security code frequently to make Card Number transactions more secure.
  • Accessibility – VoiceOver for Markup descriptions and PDF signatures has been added, and there are new accessibility focussed Memoji. Mouse pointers can also be customized, and improvements to ‘Full Keyboard Access’ let a Mac be controlled entirely with a keyboard.
  • Hello Screen Saver and Background – macOS Monterey includes a “Hello” desktop picture and screen saver.
  • Find My – The ‘Find My’ app features live locations for family and friends, and there’s a ‘Find My’ widget. AirPods Pro and AirPods Max are also now compatible with the ‘Find My’ network so they can be located even outside of Bluetooth range.
  • Home – HomeKit Secure Video can now let you know when a package has been delivered.
  • Reminders – Reminders includes support for tags and custom smart lists, plus there’s an option to delete completed reminders.
  • Screen Time – Downtime on demand can be activated to allow only phone calls and apps that you choose. When activated, Downtime sends a five minute reminder and then stays on until the end of the day.
  • Siri – Siri in macOS Monterey is better at maintaining context between requests, so you can refer to what you just asked and Siri will understand.
  • Tips – Apple brought a Tips feature to macOS Monterey to help people learn new Mac features.
  • Window updates – You can swap out apps in Split View or change a Split View window to a full screen window. There’s also an option to enable a full-screen menu bar so you can see the app menu while in full screen mode.
  • Mail App Extensions – The Mail app in macOS Monterey supports extensions that can do things like block content, perform message and composing actions, and improve security.
  • Improved Display Support – Newer Macs running Monterey will support Adaptive-Sync external displays with variable refresh rates. Adaptive-Sync is a variable refresh rate display technology used for AMD FreeSync, Nvidia G-Sync, and other similar display features.
  • Full-screen menu bar – You have the option to display the menu bar at all times in full screen so you can easily view the app menu and other glanceable information anytime.

What’s new with privacy in macOS Monterey?

Apple has always touted itself as the number one tech company when it comes to privacy. In macOS Monterey, there are a number of new privacy focused features. Let’s take a look at everything Apple’s including to improve privacy on the Mac.

Child safety features

Apple is rolling out a feature to protect children when communicating on any Apple device. The new Communication Safety feature is coming to macOS Monterey as well as iOS 15 this fall. If a child attempts to send or receive a sexually explicit photo, the Messages app will issue a warning. There’s also an option for the parent to receive a notification if the child does not heed the warning, or attempts to reply with sexually explicit photos.

In addition, Apple initially outlined plans to roll out a new feature for scanning iCloud photos for child pornography. This feature received significant pushback from security researchers and has been tentatively delayed and will not be rolling out with macOS Monterey.

Mail Privacy Protection

Mail Privacy Protection helps protect your privacy by preventing email senders from learning information about your Mail activity. If you choose to turn it on, it hides your IP address so senders can’t link it to your other online activity or determine your location. And it prevents senders from seeing if you’ve opened their email.

Hide My Email

‘Hide My Email’ allows you to create unique, random email addresses that forward to your personal inbox so you can send and receive email without having to share your real email address.

Password improvements

With Monterey you can generate verification codes needed for additional sign-in security. If a site offers two-factor authentication, you can set up verification codes under Passwords in System Preferences and Safari — no need to download an additional app. Once set up, verification codes will autofill when you sign into the site.

Passwords are also easier to manage. Look up and manage your saved passwords for apps and websites in the new Passwords section of System Preferences, which replaces KeyChain. Import passwords from other password managers to Passwords in System Preferences or Safari. You can export passwords too. This is a great feature for any users that have an Android phone but use a Mac for computing.

iCloud+ with Private Relay

iCloud Private Relay is a service that lets you connect to virtually any network and browse with Safari in an even more secure and private way. It ensures that the traffic leaving your device is encrypted so no one can intercept and read it. Then all your requests are sent through two separate internet relays. It’s designed so that no one — including Apple — can use your IP address, location, and browsing activity to create a detailed profile about you.

Recording Indicator

See which apps have access to the microphone on your Mac in Control Center. A new software indicator augments the camera indicator light by showing you whenever an app has access to your microphone.

Will all new features come to both Intel and Apple silicon Macs?

With so many new features coming to macOS Monterey, you might be wondering if Intel users will get left out on certain updates. Unfortunately, there are a few features that will be exclusive to Macs running Apple silicon.

The Live Text feature was originally announced as an M1 Mac exclusive, but that changed with the 4th beta update. Intel Macs can now use Live Text in macOS Monterey. Here’s a list of the remaining Apple silicon-exclusive features in Monterey:

  • Portrait Mode blurred backgrounds in FaceTime videos (the Portrait Mode option shows up on Intel Macs, but doesn’t work).
  • An interactive 3D globe of Earth in the Maps app.
  • More detailed maps in larger US cities.
  • Text-to-speech in additional languages, including Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, and Finnish.
  • On-device keyboard dictation that performs all processing completely offline.
  • Unlimited keyboard dictation (removing the 60 second limit).

About author

Jeff Springer
Jeff Springer

Applied mathematician with a love for Android. I am interested in inverse problems for imaging and integration with camera software for mobile phones.