The macOS Monterey Upgrade: An In-Depth Look for Users

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Announced at WWDC 2021, macOS Monterey represents an ambitious upgrade to Apple‘s desktop operating system. It promises major improvements to continuity, messaging, photos, maps, and key apps like Safari and FaceTime.

For Apple, Monterey moves macOS another step towards seamless integration with its broader hardware and software ecosystem. As a Mac user, you gain new capabilities that enhance productivity and convenience.

Upgrading any machine‘s core software is always a big decision. In this detailed guide, we‘ll cover everything you need to know about macOS Monterey to decide if and when to upgrade.

Why "Monterey"?

Apple names major macOS releases after beautiful California locations. Past names include Mavericks, Yosemite, Big Sur and now Monterey.

The coastal city of Monterey sits around 100 miles south of Big Sur on California‘s central coast. It‘s known for its scenic shoreline, Cannery Row made famous by John Steinbeck, and the world-class Monterey Bay Aquarium.

It also borders Carmel-by-the-Sea where Apple co-founder Steve Jobs lived during his early days with the company.

So "Monterey" continues Apple‘s tradition of choosing stunning California backdrops to represent the latest macOS iteration. The name will soon roll off the tongue for Mac users everywhere.

macOS Monterey – Why Now?

Based on past release timelines, Apple was due to unveil a major macOS refresh this summer. Monterey arrives just under one year after macOS Big Sur in 2020.

macOS version history timeline graphic

Timeline of recent macOS releases.

With its ecosystem expanding through products like AirTags, Apple TV+ and Fitness+, deep integration is a key priority. Monterey pushes core integration enhancements like Universal Control.

The pandemic also likely accelerated Apple‘s focus on improving communication apps like FaceTime. Rival platforms like Zoom flourished as people desperately needed better video calling.

Augmenting photos with Live Text and Look Up leverages machine learning capabilities of M1 Macs. And Shortcuts arriving on the desktop highlights Apple silicon‘s versatility.

Monterey feels like an ambitious upgrade purpose-built for our current environment and Apple‘s broader strategic aims. The new device continuity capabilities in particular lay groundwork for the future.

Will Your Mac Run macOS Monterey?

Before looking at individual features, it‘s important to know if your Mac can even run Monterey.

Apple typically provides 5-6 years of software support per Mac model. Here are the machines compatible with the latest update:

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

For context, 2020‘s Big Sur supported Macs dating back to 2013 models. So Monterey‘s requirements stepped up slightly, with 2014/2015 now the general cutoff.

Machines that are incompatible include the MacBook Air and Pro models from 2013-2014, Mac Mini from 2014, and any iMac pre-2015.

Chart showing decreasing macOS upgrade rates on older Macs

Upgrade rates decline quickly the older a Mac model is per Mixpanel data.

Mixpanel stats show that only around 50% of compatible users upgrade within six months, and rates fall sharply as device age increases. So even if you can run Monterey doesn‘t mean you necessarily should.

If your daily driver Mac falls outside the compatibility window, all hope isn‘t lost. Utility software like CleanMyMac X can optimize and speed up older machines to still work nicely on modern macOS versions.

But an upgrade should be planned sooner rather than later. Running older unsupported models leaves you exposed to security risks.

Now let‘s explore how the new capabilities with Monterey measure up for both M1 and Intel Mac users.

Major Features and Changes in macOS Monterey

With general compatibility covered, it‘s time to dig into the meat of what macOS Monterey contains. We‘ll focus on the most significant updates first.

Continuity Gets a Major Boost

A core theme with Monterey is enhanced integration between Apple devices. New forms of device continuity deliver capabilities users have requested for years.

FaceTime expanding to the web is a big step in opening the walled garden. While still limited compared to Zoom or Microsoft Teams, Apple is finally acknowledging that enabling communication outside its ecosystem is vital.

Universal Control looks incredibly promising. Having a single mouse and keyboard seamlessly work across a Mac and iPad feels long overdue. The option to use an iPad as a Mac external display alone will thrill many users.

Shared With You intelligently surfaces content shared via Messages in the relevant apps. Nice quality of life change that again makes Apple products work smarter together.

Continuity used to be an advantage Apple touted over competitors. But gaps like no standalone FaceTime app for Windows left users wanting more. Monterey focuses on breaking down barriers across Apple devices, and between platforms.

FaceTime Catches Up with Rivals

FaceTime receives some of the biggest updates with Monterey. Along with web support, useful additions include:

  • Portrait mode to blur the background on M1 Macs
  • SharePlay to share audio/video during calls
  • Spatial audio for a more immersive feel

FaceTime SharePlay in macOS Monterey

These updates address complaints that FaceTime trailed competitors in key areas. SharePlay in particular brings parity with watching content together features from Zoom, Amazon Prime Video and Disney+.

FaceTime links enabling web joins open Apple‘s proprietary platform to everyone. Portrait mode offers a quick way to appear more professional by blurring messy backgrounds.

Spatial audio‘s 3D effect heightens the realism of video calls. The feature only requires compatible headphones – no special hardware like Facebook VR devices needed.

Additions like grid view, scheduling and noise cancellation help FaceTime catch up to alternatives. But for basic video calls, many users still ultimately care more about reaching people easily versus bells & whistles. On that front, web joins are a game changer.

Focus Mode Aims to Cure Distraction

We‘re all guilty of phone addiction. Apple thinks its new Focus Mode can help.

Focus lets you filter notifications and apps to reduce distractions for:

  • Work
  • Gaming
  • Exercising
  • Driving
  • Content consumption
  • Custom modes

Say you enable Focus for work – you could allow only email, calendar, task and chat apps related to your job. Personal social media accounts pause so you‘re not tempted to scroll during work hours.

Focus picks up iOS‘s similar Do Not Disturb While feature. But the ability to create custom modes makes it far more flexible for different use cases.

Focus Mode doesn‘t seem revolutionary on paper. But thoughtfully reducing digital distractions can provide real benefits. iOS 15 extends Focus to Apple Watch to automatically enable modes based on your current activity.

Shortcuts Arrives on Desktop

Shortcuts on iOS lets users string together actions from different apps for fast automation. Need to text your roommate when you‘re 10 minutes away from home? Set up a shortcut.

Now Shortcuts comes to the Mac with Monterey. Chaining routine tasks into a single click can save tremendous time.

macOS Monterey Shortcuts app

Power users will love dreaming up custom shortcuts. But having accessible pre-built recipes could make automation approachable for average users too.

Shortcuts has tons of potential on Mac. It highlights the versatility of Apple silicon powering a common app across mobile and desktop. And automation is ultimately about working smarter – something Apple wisely continues focusing on.

How Will Performance Be Impacted?

Let‘s shift gears and talk about potential performance impacts with Monterey. Will your Mac feel faster or slower after upgrading?

In Apple‘s betas, Monterey has felt at least on par with Big Sur for us. Certain operations like launching apps seem snappier. The OS optimizations and apps engineered for Apple silicon play a key role.

Of course, perceived performance depends on your exact Mac model and specs like RAM and storage. Upgrading those components helps maximize speed regardless of macOS version.

Monterey benchmarks on different Macs graphic

Geekbench benchmarks of Monterey from beta 2 on select Macs via MacRumors.

Early Geekbench scores of the Monterey beta show decent performance lifts on M1 Macs but more modest gains or declines on Intel models.

Apple silicon optimizations likely explain faster figures on M1. Scores also frequently fluctuate between betas. But so far, Monterey runs efficiently on modern Macs based on testing.

Still, upgrades can sometimes expose unexpected issues. Following best practices will help safeguard your workflow:

  • Use Time Machine or cloud backup before upgrading
  • Clean install rather than overwrite (if feasible)
  • Wait 2-4 weeks after release to upgrade
  • Close open apps and files before installing
  • Disconnect auxiliary devices and drives

Utility software like CleanMyMac X can also optimize your Mac by removing junk files, disabling unneeded startup items, and freeing up disk space before upgrading. Taking those steps is time well spent.

To Upgrade or Not Upgrade: Closing Advice

Hopefully this guide has provided lots of useful details to inform your macOS Monterey decision. Here are our closing recommendations:

Upgrading looks wise for most M1 Mac users

Apple silicon machines get all the latest optimizations and exclusive features. Performance should be excellent based on beta testing. Staying current also ensures you get timely security updates.

Recent Intel models can benefit but aren‘t as urgent

Running Monterey on Intel Macs misses some Apple silicon perks. But continuity features, FaceTime upgrades and the new Safari still deliver value. Wait a few weeks post-release unless you eagerly want to try the beta.

Older models get less – carefully weigh pros and cons

Supporting aging hardware has downsides. Some dated Macs that can run Monterey may crawl to a halt. Assess if handy new features outweigh losing performance you still need. Upgrading your Mac itself often makes most sense.

Don‘t rush onto the bleeding edge

Think hard before installing major updates the day they drop. Bugs and quirks are inevitable with software this complex. Let early adopters vet things first.

Back up your system before upgrading

Whether you upgrade day one or months later, use Time Machine or cloud backup so you can rollback if needed. Relying on backups protects you from potentially show-stopping issues.

Clean up and optimize your Mac pre-upgrade

Freeing disk space, removing clutter, and disabling unneeded startup items streamlines system performance. Utility software like CleanMyMac X makes pre-upgrade cleanups easy.

Prepare for a brief learning curve

OS upgrades take time to adapt to. Menu options may move; shortcuts and flows you rely on could change. Expect a transitional period to get fully productive again even if Apple‘s UI designs are typically intuitive.

Change brings uncertainty. But avoiding modern features and security fixes forever isn‘t ideal either. We hope this guide helps you make an informed decision about when to jump into macOS Monterey.

Apple is steering macOS in wise directions. The focus on device integration, intelligence, and communication will only accelerate the Mac‘s capabilities. Monterey moves the platform forward in meaningful ways.

For the optimal experience, upgrading sooner than later looks recommended if you purchased an M1 Mac. More patience will benefit Intel model owners. But by following key upgrade best practices, all users can navigate Monterey with confidence.

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