macOS Monterey Preview: iOS 15 Features Come for Your Mac

macOS Monterey Preview: iOS 15 Features Come for Your Mac
Photo: Caitlin McGarry/Gizmodo

Of all Apple’s OSes, macOS is the one most people delay updating. How many of you, when you boot up your Mac, banish update reminders for days — sometimes weeks or even months — with a click of “remind me later” rather than wait to finish the task you sat down to accomplish? I would guess a large number. In the days before I regularly blogged about Macs, I confess I did the same.

But macOS 12 is so in sync with iOS 15 that if you update your iPhone — and you will — then updating your Mac makes perfect sense. So many features carry over from one device to another that they now feel like extensions of each other.

If macOS Big Sur was the iOS-ification of the Mac’s aesthetic, macOS Monterey’s headline software features are all lifted straight from the iPhone and work across all your Apple devices. Shortcuts, Apple’s automation app most well-known for enabling users to customise home screen icons in iOS 14, just landed on the Mac after debuting on the iPhone back in 2018. FaceTime gets a huge upgrade, with SharePlay for watching videos, screen-sharing, and listening to music with contacts. You can set up Focus profiles for managing notifications that sync across all your devices. Safari gets a new look, which is not as heinous on the Mac as it is on the iPhone but has the same general vibe. And you’ve long been able to AirPlay content from an iPhone to, say, an Apple TV, but never to a Mac — until now. It all just works.

If I have any disappointments with macOS Monterey so far, it’s that Universal Control, one of the few Mac-specific features in Apple’s overall suite of upgrades this year, has so far not been included in the beta. I rarely get extremely hyped about new Mac features, but I’m so curious to try out this one, which allows you to use a single mouse/trackpad and keyboard to control multiple Macs and iPads arranged next to each other. I’ve been imagining how I can position an iPad Pro with a Mac for the dual-display setup of my dreams — do I go horizontal or vertical? — even going so far as to set up an iPad stand set up next to my iMac. It sits empty, waiting.

While I won’t be describing a Universal Control experience here, I can tell you what it’s like to live with macOS Monterey in general. If you update your iPhone to iOS 15 and like what you see, so far Monterey is a solid, complementary upgrade.

How to Install macOS Monterey

macOS Monterey is now available as a public beta for anyone to try. I’ve been using it on an M1 iMac for a while now, and have had no issues with stability. As always, back up your files and prepare for bugs before installing beta software, and I recommend using it on a device you don’t rely on every day, just to be safe.

You also need to have a Mac compatible with Monterey. For reference, those are: MacBook Air or MacBook Pro from early 2015 or later; MacBook (early 2016 or later); iMac (late 2015 and later); iMac Pro (2017 and later); Mac Pro (late 2013 and later); and Mac Mini (late 2014 and later).

If you’re still feeling brave and have a compatible Mac, head on over to enroll in Apple’s Beta Software Program with your Apple ID and follow the instructions for installing Monterey.

Now let’s get into it.

iOS 15’s Flagship Features on the Mac

Shortcuts, a Safari redesign, and AirPlay land on the Mac, just like on the iPhone. (Photo: Caitlin McGarry/Gizmodo) Shortcuts, a Safari redesign, and AirPlay land on the Mac, just like on the iPhone. (Photo: Caitlin McGarry/Gizmodo)

I’ve described in detail what it’s like to use iOS 15 features like FaceTime’s SharePlay and Focus in my iOS 15 preview here. And while they are equally capable on the Mac in Monterey, you might find you use them differently. I don’t find Focus, Apple’s notification-wrangling approach, to be as useful on the Mac as on the iPhone because my interaction with notifications on my Mac is completely different than it is with my iPhone. I don’t really need to use my Work Focus profile on my Mac because, basically, all I use it for is working. I don’t get many dings from messaging apps besides Slack (constantly, forever), and the only notifications I allow are from Messages and Calendar. All that is to say, the Mac is not a screen I have an addiction to, so Focus isn’t quite as necessary here.

FaceTime’s new features are also fun on the Mac, though screen-sharing was a little finicky. I didn’t see controls to share a screen or my window, and I also wasn’t able to turn off screen-sharing when I wanted to — instead, I had to end the call. I expect these are little bugs that will be ironed out ahead of the official release.

FaceTime Portrait Mode is a little aggressive around curly hair, but I don't hate it. (Screenshot: Caitlin McGarry/Gizmodo) FaceTime Portrait Mode is a little aggressive around curly hair, but I don’t hate it. (Screenshot: Caitlin McGarry/Gizmodo)

And while I usually use FaceTime on my iPhone or iPad, using Portrait Mode with the iMac’s 1080p front-facing lens is truly next level, and I plan to use this for all future video calls. Thankfully, Portrait Mode will be available in third-party video-conferencing apps, too, not just FaceTime (though it is only supported on M1 Macs). Apologies to all my friends and colleagues in advance for being extra as hell.

Cool new Maps, the Shared With You feature from Messages that allows you to see content your friends have sent you in relevant apps (say, a web link in Safari or a song link in Apple Music), and more iOS features have also arrived on the Mac, making the two devices seem more intertwined than ever before. They’re not game-changers for the Mac, but they do make it easier to pick up on one screen where you left off on another, which is exactly the point of Monterey.

New Safari Is Slightly Less Annoying on the Mac

As terrible as I find the Safari redesign in iOS 15 and iPadOS 15, somehow it’s less so on the Mac. Unlike on the iPhone, the address bar doesn’t jump up and down depending on whether you’re typing in it or not, so immediately we’re off to a better start. And while I absolutely hated the colour-matched tabs when I started using the redesigned Safari — confusingly, they just made it appear as if my browser was jumping between Light Mode and Dark Mode depending on the page — you can turn that feature off.

The redesigned Safari isn't so bad on the Mac, but the disappearing reload button is a no from me. (Screenshot: Caitlin McGarry/Gizmodo) The redesigned Safari isn’t so bad on the Mac, but the disappearing reload button is a no from me. (Screenshot: Caitlin McGarry/Gizmodo)

I do find it weird that my tabs and the address bar are centre-aligned in the same spot, which means things can get very crowded (though with Tab Groups, which let you organise tabs into categories and switch between them, a bit less so). That feature is now accessible from a new Safari sidebar, which keeps things pretty streamlined.

And while the button to reload a page has seemingly disappeared, if you hover your cursor over the More menu (behind the ellipses to the right of the search bar), you’ll see it appear again. It’s a neat trick, but also infuriating because why? What problem does this solve? I predict Safari is going to make an awful lot of people mad. Luckily, I primarily use Chrome on the Mac because Kinja doesn’t function in Safari, so at least my Safari woes will be limited to iPhone and iPad.

AirPlay Is Fine, but I Want Universal Control

Apple’s AirPlay 2 is a convenient way to cast content from one Apple device to another, usually one with a bigger screen. I generally use it to cast videos to my Apple TV or music to AirPlay-compatible speakers. Because of other Continuity features like Handoff, I actually always forget that you can’t AirPlay from an iPhone to a Mac — or at least you couldn’t, until now.

At first, I wondered why this feature would be useful. I never really need to AirPlay a song to my Mac, for instance, because I would just pop open Apple Music or Spotify. And AirPlaying a YouTube video to a Mac is silly because I can navigate to YouTube in a browser. But there are some instances where you might want to use AirPlay with your Mac. Apple highlighted the use of iPad sketching apps, which allow you to AirPlay your drawings to a Mac in real-time. I doodled a bit on an iPad Pro while mirroring my screen to an iMac, and while I’ll spare you the outcome (I’m not an artist), it worked well and there was no lag.

There's no Fitness+ Mac app, but you can now AirPlay workouts from your iPhone. (Photo: Caitlin McGarry/Gizmodo) There’s no Fitness+ Mac app, but you can now AirPlay workouts from your iPhone. (Photo: Caitlin McGarry/Gizmodo)

A perhaps more mainstream use case for AirPlay on a Mac is Fitness+, Apple’s on-demand workout service. You can now cast those videos from your iPhone to your Mac, if you want to take classes on a larger screen (and you do; they’re terrible on an iPhone). I tested this out, and while the AirPlay settings were a little wonky — the class I chose offered me the option to AirPlay audio but not video — the video showed up seamlessly anyway.

You can also use AirPlay to cast content from one Mac to another, which I haven’t tested yet. I tend to play fast and loose with the betas, but putting a dev beta on both a work Mac and a personal Mac just seemed like a disaster waiting to happen. I’ll be testing this alongside Universal Control in the future, so stay tuned. If you’re hoping to use an older Mac as a second display for a newer one, though, AirPlay is probably not the solution — your machine has to be from 2018 or newer to take advantage of the Mac-to-Mac AirPlay functionality.

Overall, AirPlay works well and can be useful in some circumstances. I’m glad it exists on the Mac. That’s it!

All the Small Things

More than any other macOS release in recent memory, it seems like Monterey is jam-packed with little things that will make a huge difference in the way you use your Mac. For some people, the addition of Shortcuts from the iPhone will make automation on the Mac easier (though if you were already using Automator on the Mac, you’ll have to start easing your way over by importing scripts into Shortcuts).

There’s Quick Note, which lets you hover your cursor in a hot corner (the bottom right for me) to bring up a, as you may have guessed, quick note. This is super useful for jotting down little things, rather than adding random observations and to-do items to one long-running, constantly refreshed note (just me?).

And a little thing that may only be of interest to me, a person who has had to erase many a Mac: With M1 Macs in Monterey, Apple is finally making it as easy to erase and factory reset a Mac as it is on an iPhone or iPad. Instead of walking through a complicated process of starting up in Recovery mode and then using Disk Utility to erase your hard drive before reinstalling macOS, there will be a new option to erase user content from the Mac under System Preferences without completely wiping the OS.

There are other M1-specific features, too, like Live Text, a systemwide feature that lets you look up or translate text in any image. A new Visual Lookup tool will show up in a photo when the Mac’s on-device intelligence recognises something notable, like an animal or a landmark. I took a photo of a houseplant, the species of which I can’t quite figure out, but alas, Visual Lookup had no diagnosis.

So far, macOS Monterey has been mostly fine, if not a little bit boring. But as soon as Universal Control arrives — god, I can’t wait.