macOS Monterey review: A compelling refinement of Big Sur

Posted:
in macOS
A mixture of new features -- not all of them available at launch -- and a Snow Leopard-like refinement of existing ones make macOS Monterey an excellent upgrade.

Apple has released macOS Monterey
Apple has released macOS Monterey


Face it: macOS Big Sur was so new and so different that we didn't notice how gaudy it actually was. The new macOS Monterey is the same OS, but it is more sober, more muted, and better.

Alongside toned-down colors, Monterey has made all-round improvements as well as adding small new features that have big impact. Then while you should never immediately upgrade to a brand-new OS, macOS Monterey's beta process had no huge wildfires, so it's a more stable proposition when you do upgrade.

There is the issue that SharePlay has been delayed, so until that's out you won't be able to watch TV and see when your friends lose interest. And there is also the fact that the most visible new feature, Universal Control, isn't here yet.

We can live without SharePlay, quite possibly easily and forever, but Universal Control was the wow moment of the macOS Monterey launch. When it does arrive, it's also likely to become the most invisible feature of the Mac as controlling multiple devices with one keyboard is going to become the new normal.

Monterey is going to become the norm, too. Initially, it goes the same route as every macOS release in that you don't see a giant difference. But then after a few weeks, you don't enjoy going back to a macOS Big Sur Mac at all.

When SharePlay comes, you'll be able to watch video alongside your friends
When SharePlay comes, you'll be able to watch video alongside your friends


That's because Monterey is a mix of behind the scenes features that make it more stable and reliable, and certain stand-out new features. Plus, more than with any other set of Apple OS releases, macOS Monterey is built to work tremendously in union with both iOS 15 and iPadOS 15.

Focus Mode is the stand-out new feature

It doesn't read like the most exciting addition, and it hasn't got the same visual impact as Universal Control. But Focus Mode is big.

You've long been able to turn on Do Not Disturb, and it probably kicks in overnight anyway. It definitely turns on while you're driving.

Now, however, it's been superseded by Focus Mode which lets you fine-tune just when and how you can be disturbed. Maybe you always want your partner to be able to reach you, but right now you're concentrating on your tax return so you'd rather skip spam calls or ones from your family.

Calls, emails, Messages, any notification you like can be set to reflect what you need. That does take some thinking at the start and it does take some setting up, but once you've done that, peace and quiet is a just a couple of clicks away.

Apple provides some suggested Focus Modes but you can - and will - create your own
Apple provides some suggested Focus Modes but you can - and will - create your own


If you manually turn on a "Doing Tax Return" setting you've created in Focus Mode on your Mac, that device shuts out the world. But so does your iPad. And iPhone. And Apple Watch.

Plus you can even save on clicking or tapping a button to turn it on. You can automate when Focus Mode options start, based on the time of day or where you are.

So if you work at an office downtown, you can have Focus Mode block out all non-work notifications when you arrive there. Or if you always work there from 9 to 5, you can have it turn on automatically during those hours.

It needs organizing, but it's more than worth it. Which is something you can also say about Tab Groups in Safari.

Tab Groups are great, tabs not so much

Safari is just a browser that happens to come pre-installed on Macs, but with macOS Monterey it has gained a superb new feature that makes it all the more likely that you'll never try another browser again.

Tab Groups sound like a more disciplined kind of bookmarking, but if the feature is that, it's also transformative. Once you've set up Tab Groups, it changes how you use Safari.

Now you can click on one group, see all the tabs you've set to be there -- and not see any others. Click between groups to make Safari show only the tabs you need for that task.

Seriously, it's disciplined bookmarking. But once you've got a few Tab Groups, you find you switch between them a very great deal. You tend to leave tabs open and move to a new group for the next thing you want to do.

Tab Groups can transform your work in Safari
Tab Groups can transform your work in Safari


And, perhaps oddly, it makes those tabs and those websites feel like part of macOS Monterey.

Live Text

Quick, use this while it still seems like magic, because after a few goes, you feel it's how it should always have been. After a few more goes, you are convinced it always has been.

Live Text on macOS Monterey lets you select text in images and then copy it out.

It's so ubiquitous and so much a part of macOS that sometimes it's going to be a pain. You clicked on an image, intending to drag it somewhere, and instead you end up dragging a highlight over the text in it.

Still, that ability to read text in any image is a boon. In use, it's oddly similar to the new system-wide translation feature, too.

With that, you can drag across any text in any application -- or almost -- select the text, and have it changed to US English. During the beta process there were apps where this didn't work, presumably because the developers need to update.

With Live Text, you can select the text in any image on your Mac
With Live Text, you can select the text in any image on your Mac


But it worked often enough and well enough that our performance on Duolingo has gone up significantly.

It's about speed and organization

Live Text, Focus Mode and Safari's Tab Groups are quite different new features, but they all fit with what seems to be a theme in macOS Monterey. Everything seems canted to saving you time, making common tasks easier, or better, or somehow just more efficient.

Being able to select text means you don't have to retype it, for instance, and Focus Mode means you won't be interrupted while you're working.

You could have just typed text that you've copied. And you could just ignore notifications. But with macOS Monterey, so much is built to make it easier for you to do more of what you need, faster.

Plus Apple seems to want you to have these features when you need them -- and not before. You aren't supposed to have to learn anything new in order to carry on with your work,

So Apple Notes on macOS Monterey for instance, looks exactly like it did in Big Sur. Until you choose to move your cursor to the bottom right corner of your screen.

This calls up a Quick Note and in theory, it's either a brand new blank one, or it's the last Quick Note you used. That could be the last one this morning, or more importantly it could be the last time you were doing a certain type of work.

If you're in Safari browsing for something, you can make a Quick Note about it. And then later you can either bring up that Note or you can call up that webpage in Safari and the note appears automatically.

You can change how you call up Quick Notes
You can change how you call up Quick Notes


This was one of the more inconsistent aspects of the beta process, as Apple seemed to experiment with just how big a brand new note should be. It was sometimes also patchy over whether it let you click to bring up a previous note, or just start a new one.

It's actually been more reliable on iPadOS 15. Nonetheless, this ability to jot down a quick thought, and to add to it later, has been enough of a benefit that you will wish it was available on the iPhone too.

Tag, you're it

Notes is also one place where Apple has added more tagging. Apple has a funny relationship with tags, in how it champions the idea of these little helpful labels, but then doesn't follow through.

Now when you write any note in Apple Notes, you can put in a word or a phrase tag that you know will help you find it later. So perhaps you have a lot of financial notes that are all to do with your client Acme Cartoons Ink. You could tag each note by writing the word #acme somewhere in them.

In practice, most people don't know about tags, and those who do, tend to use them a lot. Apple's introduction of tagging into apps like Notes will definitely encourage more people to see the benefit of them. But once you see the benefit, you over-use tags and Apple's not got a great way of displaying and handling very many tags.

Apple Notes now includes tags to help you search and sort your notes
Apple Notes now includes tags to help you search and sort your notes


Tagging is now also in Reminders, which continues its journey from very well-designed basic task manager, to very well-designed mid-range To Do app. You could now, for example, open up Reminders in the morning and tag everything that must be done today with the word #urgent.

It's a small change, and so small that you aren't bothered by it if you don't want to be. Yet if you are, it makes Reminders, and Notes, significantly faster to use.

Speeding up your work with Shortcuts

Overall, macOS Monterey does feel faster in daily use. Perhaps it literally is, but really it's the combination of all the new ways to get things done quicker that add up to that feeling.

One of those is Shortcuts. This was previously on iOS and it definitely remains better on there. There have been the odd bug with Shortcuts on Mac throughout the beta process and it's enough to make you think you might wait until next year's macOS before you get too much into it.

You'd be losing out if you did, though. Many macOS Shortcuts written on iOS came straight over to the Mac and worked perfectly. Others needed some small changes, but on balance Shortcuts has been a good addition that does save time.

For instance, AppleInsider has long had a Shortcut that performs a certain series of fairly complex regular expressions on a selection of text. It was routine to copy that text on the Mac, then AirDrop it over to iOS to perform the Shortcut, and return the result the same way.

Now we can just run that same Shortcut on the Mac, completely unaltered, and it's done. Previously it would only take moments to run this iOS Shortcut on some text, now it doesn't even take that long.

It is going to take getting used to new ways of writing Shortcuts. You will find immediately that writing and editing Shortcuts is easier on the Mac with its big screen and keyboard.

And that's especially great since you can edit Shortcuts on the Mac that you're really planning to use on your iPhone. Except there is an issue there as a Shortcut can now run on iPhone, iPad, and Mac, but not all Shortcut features can.

Shortcuts on the Mac
Shortcuts on the Mac


So you'll need to think about whether your Shortcut is going to run on the Mac, on iOS, or both, and write it to work across them. You're going to get very familiar with a Shortcut action called Get Device Details, as it will be what will tell your Shortcut whether it's being run on Mac or an iPhone.

Shortcuts is far easier and obvious than the similar Automator has been, if not immediately as powerful as AppleScript. Still, there are few disappointments in macOS Monterey, and the problems with Shortcuts are one of them.

It doesn't stop us using Shortcuts for Mac every day, and it doesn't stop us being grateful for it at least twice an hour. But this is something we'll look forward to seeing mature in the next macOS.

Privacy steps up a gear

Apple may not wait a year to update Shortcuts, based on how it has progressed the iOS version. It definitely is not going to wait that long to update its new privacy features, either.

This is not to do with the controversial CSAM proposals which Apple says it plans to take some more time considering. Rather, it's to do with features such as Private Relay which have been much more positively received.

Private Relay, though, has not officially been released with macOS Monterey. It is available as an option and Apple calls it a public beta rather than a finished feature.

It's been mostly working just fine across the entire beta program, though. The company might prefer to call it beta until it's had chance to see how it operates at scale with the entire macOS community.

Private Relay
Private Relay


Nonetheless, in daily use, Private Relay has lived up to Apple's claims. It doesn't appear to slow down Macs, and it does appear to shield your real location.

There are more new or improved privacy features that are not hiding behind a beta label. Hide My Email has proved a handy way to generate a fake new email address that you enter into sites you're not sure of.

Switching to your real address once you've decided you do like and trust a site, though, is always going to be a pain. Really you have to create a new account on that site and you're not going to, you're going to live with using the fake address.

Communicating with the world

Private Relay is meant to mask where you are, and Hide My Email prevents people knowing who you are. But there are also new features in macOS Monterey that are to do with reaching out to people for human contact.

One of them is SharePlay, which has been delayed. But another is the new, improved FaceTime.

It's very much like the old FaceTime, except the pool of people you can talk to is wider. Instead of being exclusive to Apple users, FaceTime is now usable by Android and Windows ones.

They won't adopt it as their new favorite, but they will join a FaceTime call that you set up -- if you invite them. It won't give Skype or WhatsApp any sleepless nights, but it is handy.

Should you get macOS Monterey

If your Mac can definitely run macOS Monterey, and if every one of your apps will definitely work with it, then no. Don't get macOS Monterey -- yet.

Let millions of other people find problems, and let Apple fix them. Let developers finish updating their apps.

Don't leave it too long, though. Once you know your apps are ready, and your Mac is ready, upgrade as fast as you can.

Pros

  • Overall stability and performance improvements

  • Focus Mode

  • Tab Groups in Safari

  • Live Text

  • System-wide translation

  • FaceTime with Android and PC users

  • Privacy features

  • Shortcuts

Cons

  • Certain promised features are delayed

  • Shortcuts is clearly a version 1.0 app and needs some work

  • System-wide translation needs app developers to support it

  • Initially some apps are not compatible; check before upgrading

The issue of apps not being compatible isn't a criticism specifically of macOS Monterey, though. It's true of all macOS updates. But it is important to check that any app you rely on is compatible, and wait until the developer confirms that.

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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 59
    1.  It's still ugly.  Mac OS 11 was awful, this doesn't even begin to fix the worst of that.  No surprise, Apple's been going steadily downhill since 10.6.

    2.  I've been running it on test machines for months.  It seemed stable-ish, though of course Apple still can't figure out how to write a working email client - not that Apple is unique in that, nobody has been able to write a good one since Eudora, and even that got bad in its last few releases.

    3.  The new 'features' are all a big yawn for me - or at least they are now, once I got that infuriating 'new note' hot corner insanity turned off.

    4.  We still don't have any definitive word that the spyware Apple built in is turned off permanently.
    williamlondonlkruppcat52
  • Reply 2 of 59
    I guess I’m probably the oddball but I still use Mojave and probably won’t upgrade until I buy a new computer. I like iTunes and don’t want to give it up and I don’t feel comfortable with drastic change.

    On iOS I caved after a year. I refused to upgrade to iOS 7 and went straight from iOS 6 to iOS 8. I remember before iOS 7 came out the majority of people were complaining that Apple had the same basic UI for too long and it was time for a change. I didn’t understand why we needed to change just for the sake of change itself. I felt happy with the way it already was and didn’t want drastic change.

    I was also a big fan of Mountain Lion and only upgraded to El Capitan when I bought a new computer. And then I upgraded to Mojave from El Capitan just before Catalina came out because I didn’t want to lose iTunes.
    williamlondon
  • Reply 3 of 59
    Bigger question for me - HOW do you get it? LOL. Running an early 2015 MBA and a 2017 iMac (both are supported from what I've read), and can't seem to find the update. Not in the App Store. Not via Software Update. Nada. Should I be counting my blessings?
    randominternetperson
  • Reply 4 of 59
    magman1979magman1979 Posts: 1,241member
    darkvader said:
    1.  It's still ugly.  Mac OS 11 was awful, this doesn't even begin to fix the worst of that.  No surprise, Apple's been going steadily downhill since 10.6.

    2.  I've been running it on test machines for months.  It seemed stable-ish, though of course Apple still can't figure out how to write a working email client - not that Apple is unique in that, nobody has been able to write a good one since Eudora, and even that got bad in its last few releases.

    3.  The new 'features' are all a big yawn for me - or at least they are now, once I got that infuriating 'new note' hot corner insanity turned off.

    4.  We still don't have any definitive word that the spyware Apple built in is turned off permanently.
    Oh look, the good’ol stupid comments around iOS 7 have re-surfaced…
    edited October 25 williamlondonlkruppSpitbathtokyojimufastasleepmacxpressikiruraharaStrangeDaysTRAG
  • Reply 5 of 59
    DAalsethDAalseth Posts: 1,816member
    I’ll update, but really only to keep currant. Everyone is crowing about Focus. I don’t use DND so an improved DND is just of no interest. The Privacy improvements are good. I never turn up my nose at improved privacy/security. TBH the rest of the list is interesting but I doubt I’ll use them much. 

    EDIT: To make it clear, I hope that this ends up being this decades Snow Leopard. Refined and rock solid. The standard we compare the next ten or so releases to. I don’t see a lot of the new features as being of much interest, but I am pleased by all the talk about back end improvements, and refinements. 
    edited October 25 mobirdstevedownunderurahara
  • Reply 6 of 59
    Is Podcasts any better? It's absolutely awful in Big Sur. It rarely syncs from my iPhone, it's REALLY slow, the layout is beyond terrible. It's the worst app I've ever used on a Mac followed by its pal, Music.

    I listen exclusively to Rock and Metal. When I open Music and click Browse all I ever see is an endless list of pop, dance, and hip-hop, and a million other things that Music should know I have never, ever, listened to. It's unbearably slow too. When I search for a band it takes ages to bring up the info. And yet again I'm bombarded by suggestions for chart music, dance, chill etc... It knows what I like but continually tries to get me to listen to pop/dance etc... I'm totally offended, to be honest.
    mobirdwilliamlondoncat52GeorgeBMacurahara
  • Reply 7 of 59
    I don't agree that Big Sur is "gaudy". I did think that Panther's brushed metal look was a bit over the top. I was glad when OS X Leopard switched to a smooth metallic look for Finder. The skeuomorphic graphics found in Mountain Lion were gaudy. I like every macOS version since Mac OS X 10.0 has looked great despite the specific points I just made about some past versions.
    williamlondonStrangeDays
  • Reply 8 of 59
    Bigger question for me - HOW do you get it? LOL. Running an early 2015 MBA and a 2017 iMac (both are supported from what I've read), and can't seem to find the update. Not in the App Store. Not via Software Update. Nada. Should I be counting my blessings?
    Yeah, I don't get it.  The Apple site says "Available 10.25."  That's today. Shouldn't it be easier to find it?
  • Reply 9 of 59
    darkvader said:
    1.  It's still ugly.  Mac OS 11 was awful, this doesn't even begin to fix the worst of that.  No surprise, Apple's been going steadily downhill since 10.6.

    2.  I've been running it on test machines for months.  It seemed stable-ish, though of course Apple still can't figure out how to write a working email client - not that Apple is unique in that, nobody has been able to write a good one since Eudora, and even that got bad in its last few releases.

    3.  The new 'features' are all a big yawn for me - or at least they are now, once I got that infuriating 'new note' hot corner insanity turned off.

    4.  We still don't have any definitive word that the spyware Apple built in is turned off permanently.
    If you hate what Apple is doing this much, why do you bother at all? I thought Snow Leopard was great, especially the server version, but I don't think Apple's OS tech is going down hill. I have used every Mac OS version since System 3 on a Macintosh Plus, so I can speak from long time experience.
    DAalsethwilliamlondonwelshdogmarcotor949tokyojimumacxpressikiruraharaStrangeDaysjony0
  • Reply 10 of 59
    mobirdmobird Posts: 661member
    I miss Aqua and Graphite...
    randominternetpersonStrangeDaysTRAG
  • Reply 11 of 59
    darkvader said:
    1.  It's still ugly.  Mac OS 11 was awful, this doesn't even begin to fix the worst of that.  No surprise, Apple's been going steadily downhill since 10.6.

    2.  I've been running it on test machines for months.  It seemed stable-ish, though of course Apple still can't figure out how to write a working email client - not that Apple is unique in that, nobody has been able to write a good one since Eudora, and even that got bad in its last few releases.

    3.  The new 'features' are all a big yawn for me - or at least they are now, once I got that infuriating 'new note' hot corner insanity turned off.

    4.  We still don't have any definitive word that the spyware Apple built in is turned off permanently.
    Oh look, the good’ol stupid comments around iOS 7 have re-surfaced…
    And just like the unruly children at MacRumors, there's a race to see who can be the first to post a negative comment. How juvenile and pathetic.
    marcotor949ikiruraharaStrangeDaysjony0
  • Reply 12 of 59
    I've been on the beta since sometime last summer. I think this is one of the best releases in the past five years or so.

    Almost has a "snow" release feel, except that there really are a substantial number of new features. Regardless, the stability is rock-solid.

    It's worth mentioning that Apple is listening to their users. They took a big swing with the Safari UI changes; beta users hated it, Apple walked back on them. Ditto for little things like the disappearing "app proxy icons" — Apple went ahead with their change, but introduced a System Preferences setting to keep them visible. Exactly as it should be.

    Normally I tell my family to wait until the "point-one" release of any macOS before upgrading, but this cake is cooked and ready.
    edited October 25 williamlondonfastasleep
  • Reply 13 of 59
    crowleycrowley Posts: 9,122member
    I won't be rushing.  No features of any interest; I tried Focus mode and Tab Groups already and both were a waste of time.
  • Reply 14 of 59
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 9,636member
    crowley said:
    I won't be rushing.  No features of any interest; I tried Focus mode and Tab Groups already and both were a waste of time.
    Perhaps you should move to Windows 11. I hear it’s amazing and has many features of interest to you.
    williamlondoncat52GeorgeBMacjony0
  • Reply 15 of 59
    DAalsethDAalseth Posts: 1,816member
    lkrupp said:
    crowley said:
    I won't be rushing.  No features of any interest; I tried Focus mode and Tab Groups already and both were a waste of time.
    Perhaps you should move to Windows 11. I hear it’s amazing and has many features of interest to you.
    No reason to be like that. I’m not at all interested in Focus Mode or Tab Groups either, but I’m staying with Mac. No reason to move from a Mercedes to a Kia because you don’t like the color of the carpet.
    williamlondontechriderbestkeptsecreturaharaStrangeDaysTRAG
  • Reply 16 of 59
    crowleycrowley Posts: 9,122member
    lkrupp said:
    crowley said:
    I won't be rushing.  No features of any interest; I tried Focus mode and Tab Groups already and both were a waste of time.
    Perhaps you should move to Windows 11. I hear it’s amazing and has many features of interest to you.
    What's the point of saying that?  I don't want to use Windows, I want to use macOS.  Not rushing to upgrade to the latest version doesn't make me your enemy.  There's no need to be so sour and unpleasant every waking moment.
    muthuk_vanalingamavon b7dewmetechriderbestkeptsecreturaharaStrangeDaysTRAGMplsP
  • Reply 17 of 59
    canukstormcanukstorm Posts: 2,557member
    lkrupp said:
    crowley said:
    I won't be rushing.  No features of any interest; I tried Focus mode and Tab Groups already and both were a waste of time.
    Perhaps you should move to Windows 11. I hear it’s amazing and has many features of interest to you.
    Windows 11 is pretty darn good actually.
    dewmewilliamlondonGeorgeBMacurahara
  • Reply 18 of 59
    mobirdmobird Posts: 661member
    I had no interest in updating to Big Sur on my Macs, there were no compelling reasons for me, a first for me. I might consider macOS Monterey after more reviews become available and if they align with this review. There are those "features" that I will never utilize and some "features" seem to offer less than more in the overall experience, I am sure that others will find value... macOS Monterey appears to clean up some of the bad behavior and takes a deep breath to address lingering issues and shortcomings. It is the behind the scenes and under the hood revisions that I am most interested in, as @Eric_WVGG alluded to the macOS "snow" era and it's refinements.
  • Reply 19 of 59
    DAalseth said:
    lkrupp said:
    crowley said:
    I won't be rushing.  No features of any interest; I tried Focus mode and Tab Groups already and both were a waste of time.
    Perhaps you should move to Windows 11. I hear it’s amazing and has many features of interest to you.
    No reason to be like that. I’m not at all interested in Focus Mode or Tab Groups either, but I’m staying with Mac. No reason to move from a Mercedes to a Kia because you don’t like the color of the carpet.
    You're one of my favourites,I love your posts, btw, but I have to disagree with you on this. He's responding to the consummate negative nelly on this forum, never a positive thing to say, everything framed in the negative, finally I had to block, couldn't handle the toxic incessant negative postings. If you never noticed, you will now.
    DAalsethikirGeorgeBMacjony0
  • Reply 20 of 59
    crowleycrowley Posts: 9,122member
    DAalseth said:
    lkrupp said:
    crowley said:
    I won't be rushing.  No features of any interest; I tried Focus mode and Tab Groups already and both were a waste of time.
    Perhaps you should move to Windows 11. I hear it’s amazing and has many features of interest to you.
    No reason to be like that. I’m not at all interested in Focus Mode or Tab Groups either, but I’m staying with Mac. No reason to move from a Mercedes to a Kia because you don’t like the color of the carpet.
    You're one of my favourites,I love your posts, btw, but I have to disagree with you on this. He's responding to the consummate negative nelly on this forum, never a positive thing to say, everything framed in the negative, finally I had to block, couldn't handle the toxic incessant negative postings. If you never noticed, you will now.
    Argue the point, not the person.  Though I guess I prefer "negative nellie" to when you called me juvenile and a wayward child for the audacity of having issues with Music.app.

    I hope you're having a good time in ignorant bliss, happy with whatever life dishes out, never having an original thought.
    elijahgfastasleepmuthuk_vanalingamuraharaMplsP
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