MacOS Monterey Is Here. These Are the Top New Features
We break down how to install the latest version of Apple’s desktop operating system, including some perks that will only work on M1-powered Macs.
YOUR MAC HAS probably alerted you that a new software update is ready. That’s MacOS Monterey (also known as MacOS 12), the next version of Apple’s desktop operating system. It adds many of the same upgrades you’ll find on your iPhone or iPad running iOS or iPadOS 15, which is one of the benefits of Apple switching to its own custom silicon to power its desktop computers. That includes improvements to FaceTime, a Focus mode, and the ability to group tabs in Safari.
Before diving into all the new things that come with MacOS Monterey, here’s how to download it onto your desktop. How to Download and Install Monterey
Is your Mac compatible with the new operating system? These models support it:
- MacBook: Early 2016 and later
- MacBook Air: Early 2015 and later
- MacBook Pro: Early 2015 and later
- Mac Mini: Late 2014 and later
- iMac: Late 2015 and later
- iMac Pro: 2017
- Mac Pro: Late 2013 and later
You can find out your Mac model by tapping on the Apple icon in the menu bar and going to About This Mac. If you’re upgrading from MacOS Sierra or later, you’ll need at least 26 GB of available storage to be able to download and install Monterey. Upgrading from an even earlier version? You’ll need up to 44 GB of free space. Our guide on freeing up space on your laptop might help.
There’s one more step you should take before installing the OS: Back up your Mac. You can do this by either backing up your files with Time Machine or storing your files in iCloud. Apple has step-by-step instructions for both methods here.
To download MacOS Monterey, click on the Apple menu in the left-hand corner of the display. Then click System Preferences > Software Update > Update Now (or Upgrade Now). Then sit back and relax, as the download and installation will take some time.The M1 Caveat
Before you get too excited over the update, there’s one caveat: Some of the new features are only available on M1-powered Macs. M1 is the custom processor Apple introduced in 2020 with the MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, and Mac Mini, and it shares the same architecture as the chips powering the iPhone and iPad, allowing these machines to have greater feature parity. This is Apple’s way of nudging you to a new MacBook, but all is not lost. Intel-powered Macs can still take advantage of most of the new perks.
To save you Intel Mac owners from sifting through features you can’t use, here’s exactly what won’t work on your machine:
- FaceTime Portrait Mode
- Maps features including the 3D interactive globe and detailed maps
- Spatial Audio with AirPods (third-generation), AirPods Pro, and AirPods Max
- On-Device Dictation with offline processing
- Siri Text-to-Speech in additional languages
Now, let’s dive into all the new features in MacOS Monterey.FaceTime Upgrade
MacOS Monterey spruces up video calls with new visual and audio features in FaceTime (most of which can be accessed through the Control Center in the upper right-hand corner of the menu bar). For example, you can apply Portrait mode to your calls—adding a blur effect to the background to hide messy rooms. A new grid view also makes it easier to see everyone on the call at once. More importantly, you can invite friends using Android or Windows devices to join in a call by sending them a link. They’ll need to be using Google Chrome or Microsoft Edge.
As for audio, you can switch between Voice Isolation and Wide Spectrum microphone modes. Voice Isolation works best when you’re in noisier environments, because it tries to block much of it out. Wide Spectrum, on the other hand, picks up all the noise in your environment. That might be helpful if the whole family is wishing a happy birthday to Grandma.
If you have an M1-powered MacBook and any of the current-gen AirPods, you can take advantage of Apple’s new spatial audio too. During group FaceTime calls, you’ll hear people’s voices based on their place on the grid on the screen; it’s Apple’s attempt to make the call sound more natural, as if people are in the room with you. Live Text
If you have iOS 15 or iPadOS 15, you might already be familiar with Live Text. Using the rear camera on those devices, you can highlight and copy text through the viewfinder. Is there text in a photo? Just select it with your finger. You can then paste this text to apps like Notes and iMessage. Whenever it recognizes a phone number or address, it’ll give you the option to call the number or input the address in Maps. This is now available in MacOS. It doesn’t work with the front-facing camera on your Mac, but you can still use it to copy text in photos and paste it elsewhere. It’ll also recognize phone numbers and websites.Focus Mode
Do you get distracted easily? Apple’s new Focus mode lets you create profiles that limit specific notifications and alerts on your Mac. You have the option to choose from the preset options—Do Not Disturb, Commuting, Driving, Personal, Sleep, and Work—or add an entirely new profile for hobbies like reading or gaming. There’s also a setting that automatically lets people know in iMessage when you have a Focus mode on (to dissuade them from messaging you). Once you turn on a Focus, it’ll trigger on your iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch too (though you can turn this off if you want). You can read more about how to use it here.Shortcuts
Originally available in iOS and iPadOS 13, the Shortcuts app is now available on Mac. You can either use preinstalled shortcuts like “Take a Break” or “Shazam Shortcut” or access ones you already made on your iPhone and iPad. For example, I can now access my “Turn off TV” shortcut for the Apple TV in my room and my “Heat the kettle to 100 degrees Celsius” shortcut for my smart kettle directly on my MacBook. You can also create new ones for your Mac workflow via the desktop editor.iCloud+
If you have a subscription to iCloud, then you’ve already been upgraded to iCloud+ at no extra charge. The service gives you access to Hide My Email (which creates burner email addresses to limit spam in your inbox) and expanded HomeKit Secure Video support. It also includes iCloud Private Relay (it’s currently in beta with a final version coming soon)—a feature that encrypts your browsing history in Safari to keep your data secure, similar to a virtual private network.Shared With You
If your friends and family have a tendency to send you tons of links and photos throughout the week, this feature helps keep it all organized. When you open apps like Messages, Photos, Safari, Apple Music, and Apple News, you’ll see a designated spot called Shared With You. It’s where all the content that’s sent to you will live, complete with the contact name of who sent it to you. That way, you can read that long article Dad sent after work, or peruse through the photos of your grandkids on the weekend. Quick Note
With the handy-dandy Quick Note feature, accessing the Notes app is a lot easier. Just move your cursor to the bottom right corner or hold down the Globe + Q keys to open up a Quick Note. You can drop in links, photos, and more. It’s great for quickly jotting something down. MacOS Monterey is also compatible with the new collaborative notes feature introduced in iOS and iPadOS 15. Similar to Google Docs, you can add people to a specific note where they can edit and make changes (which you can see in real time).Safari Tab Groups
Do you have an emotional attachment to your tabs? Well, here’s a feature for you. You can create Tab Groups that’ll not only organize all those open tabs but will also make your Safari window look neater. Using the Tab Group button, you can name each group based on categories like “Shopping” or “Work,” and then add tabs to each one. The feature syncs across all your Apple devices, so you’ll always have your Tab Groups at your disposal.
Additionally, you can switch the way your open tabs look in Safari. To change the layout, go to Safari > Preferences > Tab Layout. You’ll have the choice between compact (which places the tabs next to the search bar) or separate (which places them below the search bar). Other New Features
There are tons more new features in MacOS Monterey. You can see Apple’s full list here, but here are a few others worth knowing about.
- AirPlay to Mac: Using an iPhone or iPad, you can now cast content to your Mac including games, shows, and music.
- Find My Widget: There’s now a dedicated widget for the Find My App, where you can see the locations of family, friends, and items in real time. You can even add it as a widget in the Notifications center so that it’s a swipe away at all times.
- Factory Reset: Instead of holding down the power button or Command-R, you can now factory-reset your Mac the same way you do an iPhone or iPad. Located in System Preferences, there’s now an Erase All Content and Settings option that will walk you through wiping your device.
- Low Power Mode: Apple brought Low Power Mode from the iPhone and iPad to the MacBook (available on models from early 2016 and later). To help conserve battery life, you can now turn the feature on by going to System Preferences > Battery > Low power mode.
- Mail Privacy Protection: Located within the Mail app, this keeps invisible pixels embedded within emails from notifying the sender whether you opened an email. It also keeps your IP address hidden to protect your exact location.
- Alternative Image Descriptions in Markup: Image descriptions you add in Markup (on your iPhone, iPad, and Mac) can now be read using VoiceOver on the Mac.
- Spatial Audio with AirPods: Compatible with AirPods (third-generation), AirPods Pro, and AirPods Max, spatial audio with dynamic head tracking creates a surround-sound listening experience that’s been tuned specifically to the Mac. The sound adjusts depending on how far or close you are to the device.
- Visual Lookup: Similar to Live Text, you can click on the information button within an image and highlight certain objects within photos (like landmarks, plants, buildings, art) to learn more about them.
Not every feature Apple announced is available just yet in MacOS Monterey. Here are a few others that are expected to arrive before the year’s end. They’ll show up as fresh software updates. Universal Control
Got an iPad? If you put it next to your Mac, you’ll be able to move the cursor straight to the iPad’s screen, drag and drop content between the two, and type, all with one mouse and keyboard. Unlike Apple’s SideCar feature, which turns your iPad into a secondary Mac screen, Universal Control allows both devices to run their respective operating systems while working in tandem. SharePlay
Currently available on iOS 15 and iPadOS 15, SharePlay lets you watch movies, listen to music, and share your screen with whoever you’re FaceTiming with. Later this year, you’ll be able to join in on a SharePlay sesh using your Mac. You can use Apple Music to stream a new album together or tune into a show via the Apple TV app. Everyone on the call will have access to synced playback controls too. Digital Legacy Program
The Digital Legacy Program passes down sensitive data and personal information stored in your iCloud if you were to pass away to assigned Legacy Contacts. These contacts will have a digital key stored on their devices, giving them access to a death certificate, and the ability to download documents and photos that can then be saved and shared with friends and family. You can also print a physical copy of the key to store in your will.
Brenda writes about consumer technology for WIRED. She specializes in mobile devices, laptops, and desktop PCs.