macOS Monterey vs Big Sur: Will Monterey Be Better Than Big Sur?

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Apple has announced its new version of macOS, which it calls Monterey. It’s packed with new features and will launch in the autumn, replacing macOS Big Sur. But what improvements will you see that will tempt you to upgrade from the current version? We take a look at how macOS Monterey compares to macOS Big Sur.

What is the release date for macOS Monterey?

The new version of macOS was unveiled at WWDC in June 2021, but as it usually the case, you won’t be able to get your hands on the full version until autumn. In the past, this has meant either September or October, so expect its arrival around then potentially accompanied by new MacBook Pros. 

If you can’t wait though, then you can always sign up to the Apple Beta Software Programme, which gives you early-access to the beta versions of macOS (as well as iOS and iPadOS). Be warned though, that as the software is still in development, there’s a good chance you’ll experience problems while the bugs are being worked out. Here’s how to install the macOS beta.

Which Macs can run macOS Monterey?

Apple has made macOS Monterey available for a lot of older Macs, but inevitably some won’t make the cut. To see if your device is eligible for the upgrade, here’s a list of the all the compatible Macs:

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  • 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

Even if you do find your model on the list, some of the more advanced features in macOS Monterey have hardware requirements that mean only newer machine will be able to use them, such as the Portrait mode in FaceTime which is limited to Macs featured Apple’s M1 chip, as you can see in Which Monterey features work on which Macs. For more details, read our macOS Monterey compatibility guide.

New features

macOS Big Sur introduced some great changes to the look and feel of macOS, with polish added to the Dock icons, a simplified layout, plus the introduction of the iOS-inspired Control Centre for quick access to various useful settings, and an updated Notifications Centre with new Widgets. 

macOS Monterey doesn’t alter any of this, instead focussing on some new technical features, alongside significant updates to Apple’s own apps, a few more app imports from iOS, and some privacy tweaks. Here’s what coming in the new version. 

Universal Control

In macOS Monterey you’ll find that it’s easier than ever to use your iPad or other Mac with your main machine, thanks to the new Universal Control feature. This is something of a souped-up version of the Sidecar feature which arrived with macOS Catalina. But, where Sidecar lets you use your iPad as a second screen, Universal Control detects compatible devices nearby and allows you to move your mouse cursor to the edge of the screen, only to have it appear on the iPad or other Mac! From that point on you can use both the mouse and keyboard from your Mac to control the other device.  

Not only that. The real magic comes in the fact that you’re then able to drag files across from one device to another, so you can begin work on a project on your iPad, then drag it onto your Mac for the finishing touches. 

Sadly, like Sidecar, this is a feature that not all Macs will be able to enjoy. Universal Control will only be an option if you have a 2016 MacBook Pro or later, 2016 MacBook or later, 2018 MacBook Air or later, 2017 21.15in iMac or later, 2015 27in iMac or later, iMac Pro, 2018 Mac mini or later, or a 2019 Mac Pro. You’ll also need an iPad Pro, iPad Air (3rd generation and later), iPad (6th generation and later), or iPad mini (5th generation and later). If you love the sound of this new feature, but don’t have a supported Mac, then you’ll need a new Mac to take advantage. Get a discount on a new Mac here:

Here’s a video from Apple demonstrating the capabilities of this impressive new feature:

AirPlay to Mac

Something new for macOS Monterey is the introduction of AirPlay to the Mac. When the update arrives, you’ll be able to stream and share content from your iPhone, iPad or other Mac directly onto the screen of an iMac or MacBook. Not only that, but the Mac can act as an AirPlay speaker, meaning you can stream songs to it from your other Apple devices.  You could use this feature to create multi-room audio for a party, for example.

Just as with Universal Control, this is a feature that is limited to newer Macs, so if it’s the one thing that appeals to you, check that your Mac is included below:

You’ll need a MacBook Pro (2018 and later), MacBook Air (2018 and later), iMac (2019 and later), iMac Pro (2017), Mac mini (2020 and later), Mac Pro (2019), and an iPhone 7 and later, iPad Pro (2nd generation and later), iPad Air (3rd generation and later), iPad (6th generation and later), and iPad mini (5th generation and later).

Focus

One of the flagship features coming in macOS Monterey is Focus. This takes the basic Do Not Disturb setting in macOS Big Sur and makes it far more powerful and easier to configure to your particular needs or situations. It also goes a step further in managing the appearance of Notifications, which is something Apple introduced in 2012 with Mountain Lion, and has been plaguing Mac users ever since.

You can select from a range of existing Focus modes, such as Personal or Work, which will then prevent annoying notifications from apps or contacts from interrupting you when you are trying to concentrate on something.

macOS Monterey vs macOS Big Sur: Focus

The feature also displays your status to anyone trying to reach you on Messages and similar apps, so they know you’re busy rather than just ignoring them. As with Shortcuts, you can easily create new Focus modes that are tailored to the task at hand, plus the mode works across all your Apple devices, so turning it on from the Mac will also enable Focus on your iPad and iPhone.

Live Text and Visual Look Up

One of the more eye-catching and useful new features for macOS Monterey is Live Text and Visual Look Up. These allow the software to analyse text, numbers and objects in images so you can interact with them. If you took a picture of a restaurant you liked the look of, and it has the address or phone number in the shot, you can just click on them to open up the relevant details in Maps or the Phone app. 

On earlier versions of macOS you can three-finger tap or right-click/control-click on words to show the Look Up window, which contains definitions and Wikipedia entries about the text. In macOS Monterey Visual Look Up will do the same things for images.

Click on a part of a photo or online image and your Mac will find out more about it. Apple says that it’s great for landmarks, works of art, dog breeds, and more, so we’re very keen to explore the possibilities this presents when macOS Monterey arrives. 

Sadly, and perhaps predictably, this handy recognition of text in images will only work on M1 Macs. So don’t get too excited if you don’t have one.

Shortcuts

While macOS has always had the Automator utility available to building automations, macOS Monterey is stepping things up by bringing the Shortcuts feature from iOS to the Mac. This should make it much easier to create routines that can automatically complete repetitive tasks you do every day. You’ll be able to choose from a library of pre-made Shortcuts to do actions like have your Mac sort your downloads folders into different file types, launch the apps you need for work, change the volume settings, and enable Do Not Disturb when going into a meeting. Plus making new shortcuts should be easy, thanks to the editor that allows you to drag and drop commands rather having to learn any kind of coding. 

Privacy and iCloud+

iCloud+ is a new feature announced at WWDC 2021, although we’re not sure if this will only be available on macOS Monterey or will also come to older versions of macOS too.

If the features are tied to an iCloud subscription, rather than the operating system then  everyone will have access to the Private Relay feature that acts as a kind of VPN when browsing, alongside Hide My Email which gives you the ability to create disposable email addresses you can use when signing up to services online, but which are forwarded to your real address. 

Apple indicates in the footnotes that the Hide My Email feature will arrive in Mail as part of a software update to iOS 15, iPadOS 15, macOS Monterey, but that it will also come to iCloud.com. Which does seem to suggest that at least some of the on-Mac functionality will be Monterey only.

Updates to Mac Apps

At WWDC 2021, Apple announced improvements to several of its own apps on the Mac, introducing new features and designs. While this was part of the macOS Monterey section of the presentation, it’s possible that some of the features may find their way to machines running macOS Big Sur. We’ll have to wait and see, as parts of the required code could be woven into the operating system and thus specific to the macOS Monterey upgrade. 

FaceTime

With FaceTime lagging behind the likes of Zoom and Microsoft Teams, with Monterey (and iOS 15) Apple will finally upgrade the app to include the kind of features needed by a modern communication platform in the Covid-era. 

The most important is the ability to now have non-Apple users join your calls. A web portal for FaceTime is now available and can be accessed by those on Android and Windows devices via a link you send from FaceTime. You can also schedule meetings, making it for more useful for organisations and teams. Clearly this won’t be a feature limited to Monterey though.

FaceTime in Monterey will include the ability to set up these calls in advance – so you will finally be able to send out an invite ahead of time with a web link, rather than have to start the call and add users to it. It seems that this is a feature that will be tied to the operating system updates, although other FaceTime users will be able to click the link and join the call.

One new FaceTime feature will not only require Monterey, but it will also require an M1 Mac (or newer). Portrait mode in FaceTime will allow you to blur the background of your FaceTime call and will no doubt be popular with users making and taking business FaceTime calls from their bedroom or any untidy room.

SharePlay is another new feature coming to the new versions of FaceTime (macOS and iOS/iPadOS). It will allow users on a FaceTime call to share music and video content, which everyone can watch at the same time. This is a feature that may require you and your friends to have subscriptions to services, such as Disney+ or Apple Music, to take full advantage of all the features. 

You can also share your screen via FaceTime, so presenting figures or other content for an online meeting is finally possible. We assume that at least the screen sharer will require Monterey.

macOS Monterey vs macOS Big Sur: FaceTIme

Sound quality is also being addressed in FaceTime. Spatial Audio will makie voices appear to come from the place on the screen where the person is speaking (although this feature is limited to Mac models from 2018 or later).

There’s also a noise reduction feature for your microphone coming. Voice Isolation mode will block out background sound, while Wide Spectrum mode means you can hear everything. It seems that these features will be available to all Macs that can run Monterey.

There’s also a new look grid layout coming so all call participants are given the same amount of space, which will make it easy to see everyone’s reactions (although we’re not sure how this will play out with calls of 30 or more participants). The person talking will be boxed out so you can see them, but it’s not clear if a presenter will take over the screen (which might have been a useful feature for work related meetings).  

Messages

Messages will get a cool new feature in the form of Shared With You. This will automatically take links, music, photos and other things people send you in Messages and add them to the Shared With You section in the corresponding app, be it Apple Music, Apple News, Apple Podcasts, Safari, Photos or the Apple TV app.

macOS Monterey vs macOS Big Sur: Shared With You

Think of it as Pocket or Instapaper for everything people send you. This means you’ll be able to enjoy the content you’ve received, without having to search through the Messages app to find them.

We think the biggest way this will make a difference to people is the ability to see the photos people send you in Messages inside your Photos app. It is a logical feature that has been missing for years and has caused a lot of confusion with people wondering where photos send in messages get saved and how to save photos from iMessage. At last , you will be able to enjoy all the photos you have been sent inside the Photos app – which has always been the place people logically expected them to be. Expect your Photos app to take a lot more space up from now on and your Messages app to take up a lot less space, as it should be!

Shared With You also shows who sent you the content originally, so you’ll know who to thank, plus you can reply to them from within the app you’re using. Nice touch.

Safari

As usual Safari will be getting a bunch of new features, including a smart, streamlined interface for tabs which has them floating over the top of the page rather than in the traditional bar. They also take on the colour of the background on the page you’re viewing, making them even less intrusive. Perhaps the best addition though is Tab Groups. If you’ve ever had to leave multiple tabs open in your browser because there’s pages you need to go back to and you don’t want to lose them. Well, Tab Groups will be a real boon. 

Now you can simply create a group, place the Tabs in there, then you can simply open the group at a later date and instantly go back to those pages. This should keep your main browser screen free of clutter and stop loads of open tabs getting in the way. 

One of the best aspect of this focus on Tabs is that users will find that the Tabs they save are available on all their Apple devices. This means that if you Pin Tabs on your Mac and switch to another Mac, or buy a new Mac, all your Pinned Tabs will be ported across automatically. Unfathomably, in Big Sur and earlier they aren’t.

The surprise is that it seems Apple will be keeping these Safari updates to Monterey, rather than granting them to older versions of macOS as it has in the past.

Quick Notes

The Notes app is one of Apple’s most useful offerings that often goes under the radar. It gets a new feature is macOS Monterey called Quick Notes, which unsurprisingly allows you to create new notes quickly and easily in little pop up windows while you’re using other apps. This will be great for jotting down details of a webpage, while editing a document, or saving that great recipe your friend just revealed. You can even attach the Quick Note to compatible apps, so it shows a small icon in the corner of the screen, enabling you to open the note without leaving the app. 

Should I upgrade to macOS Monterey?

While macOS Big Sur was a big improvement over the previous iteration in terms of performance and design, macOS Monterey builds on that with some excellent new features that are sure to improvement the day-to-day experience of using your Mac. 

Focus will stop you getting interrupted while trying to think or work, while the Shared With You feature in Messages means you’ll spend less time hunting for things and more time enjoying them. FaceTime now becomes a serious alternative to Zoom and Microsoft Teams, with the addition of Android and Windows users being a huge step forward. 

Throw in Universal Control, Shortcuts, AirPlay to Mac, plus the various improvements to the Apple Mac apps, and macOS Monterey becomes an impressive release that means you’ll want to leave behind the comforts of Big Sur and head out into the new land.   

Just beware that some of the best new features will only work with M1 Macs, and others still require a reasonably recent Mac. So just because you can run Monterey on your Mac doesn’t mean you will get all the goodies.

We take a deeper dive in our complete guide to the new features in macOS Monterey and you can also see what’s in store for its siblings in iOS 15 vs iOS 14 and What to expect in iPadOS 15.





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