macOS Monterey (also known as macOS 12) is now rolling out to everyone with a compatible Mac. If you have an early 2016 or newer MacBook, early 2015 or newer MacBook Air, early 2015 or newer MacBook Pro, late 2014 or newer Mac Mini, late 2015 or newer iMac, the late 2017 iMac Pro, or late 2013 or newer Mac Pro, you can dive in.
Once you’ve downloaded and installed the free update, here’s what to try first.
The Notes app in macOS Monterey gets an upgrade with the addition of Quick Notes, a pared-down note taker that you can use without opening Notes itself. You can create a Quick Note from anywhere with a keyboard shortcut (Fn+Q), by selecting text, or by moving the cursor to the bottom right corner of the screen while holding down Cmd.
Apple isn’t pleased that you’ve been spending all your video-calling time on Zoom, so it’s giving you a Zoom-like interface option for FaceTime group chats—you even get the illuminated box around the current speaker, as on Zoom. It’s called Grid Layout and you’ll see it available as a view on your other Apple devices where FaceTime is supported.
Shortcuts was introduced in iOS 12, and with Monterey it makes its way to macOS as well. The app works in more or less exactly the same way on a Mac: Launch Shortcuts and you can combine several actions into one single command, whether that’s creating a GIF from a video, creating a timer to use for breaks, starting a video call, or whatever other task you need to automate.
After you install Monterey, your Mac can then act as an AirPlay speaker. If you’re playing audio from your iPhone, for example, you can choose AirPlay output and pick your Mac from the list. It can even work as part of a multi-speaker setup. Use the Sharing tab in System Preferences to configure the AirPlay Receiver option.
The same AirPlay trick works for mirroring and extending displays as well as streaming audio. Again, you can open System Preferences and choose Sharing, then AirPlay Receiver to turn on the feature. One way to use it would be to put a presentation from an iPhone up on an iMac, or stream a Fitness+ class from your phone to your Mac’s larger screen.
The small dots that alert you when your mic and camera are actually in use are really helpful on iOS, and macOS Monterey gets a mic indicator to go alongside the green webcam light already present on Macs. When the microphone is in use, you’ll see an orange dot next to the Control Center icon on the menu bar—click the icon to see which app is using the mic.
Open up System Preferences and then choose Desktop & Screen Saver and Screen Saver, and you’ll see there’s a brand new addition to the list. An elegant screensaver called Hello has arrived, and according to Apple, it “celebrates the history and progress of Mac” and refers back to the very first Mac that displayed a similar “hello” message on screen.
Apple Maps is getting more detailed and appealing visuals in certain large cities, with the same update rolling out across several of Apple’s 2021 software updates—including macOS Monterey, as long as you’re on a Mac with an M1 chip. San Francisco is a good place to start exploring the new views: Look for the highlight icons on landmarks in 3D mode.
MacBooks (2016 and later) get a new Low Power Mode with the arrival of macOS Monterey, which does exactly what you might expect: reduce some of the extra bells and whistles on your laptop so the demands on the battery are lower. From System Preferences, choose Battery and then Battery or Power Adapter. Low power mode is available on both.
As with iOS 15, iPadOS 15, and watchOS 8, macOS Monterey has a new Focus tool. You’ll find it by clicking the Control Center icon on the menu bar. Think of it as an enhanced version of Do Not Disturb, so you can set specific notification options for scenarios at home and at the office (like studying, gaming, sleeping, working, etc.).
Most of the key Apple apps, including Photos, Apple Podcasts, Safari, and Apple News, are getting a new Shared With You section that you can look out for in macOS Monterey. Essentially this is just a way of quickly getting to anything that your contacts have sent you through the Messages app, whether that’s vacation photos, a link to an article, or a podcast recommendation.
Keep your bunches of tabs together in the new tab groups feature in Safari. To get started, Cmd+click on a tab and choose Move to Tab Group, where you can pick an existing group or create a new one. You can organize your tabs in whatever way works best for you, and by default your tab groups will show up on the left of the Safari interface for easy access.
Speaking of Safari, you’ll notice that it’s got quite a radical redesign for macOS Monterey: There’s a streamlined tab bar that changes color to match the pages that you’re currently viewing, there’s an integrated smart search field built into the address bar, and you’ve also got a redesigned sidebar for managing your bookmarks, shared links, and more.
Eventually, macOS Monterey will enable you to watch videos and listen to music with other people over FaceTime, as well as share anything else that’s on the screen of your Mac. It’s called SharePlay, but at the time of writing Apple has pushed its launch back, so you’ll still have to wait for the feature to roll out after the initial launch of the new OS.
Universal Control is one of the headline features of macOS Monterey, though we’re not sure exactly when it will arrive (later this fall is what Apple is saying). The feature will let you use one Mac keyboard and trackpad (or mouse) to control other Macs and iPads next to it (on the same wifi and using the same Apple ID), as if they were connected displays. Files can be dragged and dropped between devices, too. This is one we can’t wait to try.