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macOS 12 Monterey new features, release date, beta and compatibility

macOS Monterey new features, release date, beta and compatibility
(Image credit: Apple | YouTube)

At this year's WWDC 2021 event we learned a lot about macOS 12, now formally named macOS Monterey. The Mac software update is due out this fall, though a public beta debuted July 1st — so you can get an early look at what's new in our macOS 12 Monterey review (hands-on).

When macOS Monterey does finally arrive on your Mac, whether as a beta or the full release, Apple has one big theme that dominates its new OS: continuity.

To that end, the company showcased a few key new features coming to macOS with Monterey that should make it easier for Apple product owners to transfer their work across macOS, iOS, and iPadOS devices. This is a big deal because Apple's Mac business appears to be moving from strength to strength this year, delivering critically acclaimed revisions of its popular laptops and desktops packing the company's powerful new M1 chips

High sales of M1-powered MacBooks have generated record revenues for Apple, and if you've kept tabs on our ongoing Mac coverage (like our MacBook Pro with M1 review and our MacBook Air with M1 review) you know that macOS 11 Big Sur plays more than a bit part in their current popularity. Now that macOS Monterey is nearly here and practically begging to be used in tandem with other Apple devices, it appears Apple is intent on giving MacBook owners more incentives to use Apple hardware.

Here's what we know so far about macOS Monterey.

macOS Monterey: Release date and betas

While we don't have exact dates yet, we do know that macOS 12 Monterey will be released in the fall of 2021. Apple also released a beta version to the public July 1st, following the launch of a developer beta at the Worldwide Developer Conference.

macOS Monterey new features, release date, beta and compatibility

Continuity across Apple devices is the big focus of macOS 12 Monterey (Image credit: Apple)

This is right in line with Apple's playbook for new macOS releases: announce a big new macOS update at WWDC in the summer, follow it up with a series of betas, then ship the final product in the fall.

macOS Monterey: New features

Since the big watchword for macOS Monterey is continuity, Apple is highlighting some new features in the new OS which make it easier to share work and files across multiple Apple devices.

macOS Monterey new features, release date, beta and compatibility

Universal Control will let you use one keyboard and mouse across multiple Apple devices, as well as seamlessly drag and drop media between them. (Image credit: Apple | YouTube)

Universal Control: Perhaps the most futuristic feature coming to macOS Monterey, Universal Control effectively allows you to share a single keyboard and mouse across multiple Apple devices that are in close proximity to your macOS PC. 

Here's how it works, according to Apple: when you place an iPad near your macOS 12 Monterey device (a new Apple iMac 2021, for example) and move your mouse to the edge of your screen nearest the external device, you'll see a new cursor animation. If you keep pushing your cursor against the edge of the screen it should move off and appear on your iPad's screen, allowing you to use your mouse and keyboard on the tablet.

macOS Monterey new features, release date, beta and compatibility

With Universal Control you'll see a little boundary-breaking animation when you move your cursor near a device that it can be used with. (Image credit: Apple | YouTube)

Apple also revealed that you can use Universal Control to drag and drop files across multiple devices, effectively giving a more skeumorphic feel to the process of AirDropping files from your iMac to iPad or iPhone, and vice versa.

macOS Monterey new features, release date, beta and compatibility

macOS Monterey will let you AirPlay media to your iMac from your iPhone or iPad. (Image credit: Apple | YouTube)

Airplay to Mac: Speaking of AirDropping, now you can also use iOS and iPad devices to Airplay media directly to your iMac or MacBook running macOS Monterey. This could be a great way to make use of the excellent speakers on the new 24-inch iMac 2021, for example.

Shortcuts come to macOS: The popular Shortcuts app from iOS is making the leap to macOS, allowing you to set up custom shortcuts and routines on your iMac/MacBook that you can then run from Siri, the Finder, the Dock, and other areas of macOS Monterey.

If you're a fan of Automator, you can import all of your workflows into Shortcuts.

macOS Monterey new features, release date, beta and compatibility

Safari is getting an upgrade and support for creating tab groups, something Google Chrome already supports. (Image credit: Apple | YouTube)

Safari: Apple is launching a redesign of Safari alongside macOS Monterey that will see the browser's tabs get smaller and organizable into “tab groups”, a la Google Chrome. Safari will now auto-update tab groups across all your devices, too, and so Safari on iOS 15 and iPadOS 15 is also getting updated with a new look and support for tab groups.

Speaking of new looks, Safari is also getting a new feature that allows it to adopt the color scheme of whatever website you happen to be looking at, shifting in real time as you switch between tabs.

Deeper iOS integration: Speaking of iOS 15, it's also coming out later this year, and with that phone software update come a lot of small features and improvements that will be reflected in macOS Monterey. New spatial audio features in FaceTime calls, for example, as well as links you can share anywhere to invite others into FaceTime calls — even directly from web browsers like Chrome or Edge, no Apple device necessary.

The most notable addition is SharePlay, a new feature which lets you share media (videos, music, screenshares) with others across iOS, iPadOS, and macOS. It's sort of like a shared virtual room: you can share an album from Apple Music or a clip from YouTube with some friends via iMessage, for example, and then chat about it in real-time while the media plays in an inset window. 

There will also be a new "Shared with You" folder on macOS Monterey which will collect all the photos, videos, and other media people share with you on iMessage into one location. 

macOS Monterey: compatibility

Courtesy of Apple, here's the full list of MacBooks and iMacs that will be compatible with macOS Monterey when it launches this fall:

iMac: Late 2015 and later

Mac Pro: Late 2013 and later

iMac Pro: 2017 and later

Mac mini: Late 2014 and later

MacBook Air: Early 2015 and later

MacBook: Early 2016 and later

MacBook Pro: Early 2015 and later

You can also check out our full guide to macOS 12 Monterey compatibility for more details.

macOS Monterey: Outlook

With its renewed focus on continuity, macOS Monterey looks like a clear play on Apple's part to strengthen the ties that bind Mac users into Apple's walled garden of devices and services. 

That's not necessarily a bad thing, of course — many of the new macOS Monterey features seem quite useful, and using Universal Control to drag and drop images doodled on an iPad or iPhone directly into an open document on your MacBook seems downright futuristic. 

The bottom line is that if you already own multiple Apple devices, macOS Monterey should offer you some interesting new ways to use them in tandem with your MacBook or iMac. If you don't own any other Apple devices, Monterey may not offer you much — other than the temptation to go out and splurge on some new hardware.

Alex Wawro

Alex Wawro is a senior editor at Tom's Guide covering all things computing, from laptops and desktops to keyboards and mice. Got a hot tip? Get in touch via alex.wawro@futurenet.com.