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Why (and How) to Upgrade Your Macintosh to Monterey

Love your iPhone? Bring more of its features to your Mac

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Apple’s latest operating system, a free update for its MacBook laptops and Mac desktops, has a host of features that can make your computer feel a bit more like your iPhone.

Every fall, Apple releases a new operating system (OS) with great fanfare and a new name. MacOS 12, also called Monterey, has been available since Oct. 25; macOS 13, to be christened Ventura, is due in a few months.

An operating system is the most important software that runs on a computer. It manages all the software — also called programs, applications or apps — plus hardware connected with cords and through Wi-Fi, your computer’s memory, and a computer’s processing of information.

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Be aware that macOS Monterey won’t seem like a significant cosmetic change from Apple’s previous macOS, Big Sur, the eighth in a series of operating systems named after California locales. But it offers several iPhone-inspired additions such as a redesigned Safari web browser, Shortcuts, and deeper Siri voice assistant integration.

How to upgrade to macOS Monterey

Before we cover the key features of Monterey, let’s first see if your Mac can handle it. The Monterey update will work with almost any Mac built in the past six years and some as old as late 2013.

Your Mac may prompt you to install the upgrade, one way to know your machine is compatible. But these Macs are supported:

  • iMac starting in late 2015
  • iMac Pro starting in 2017
  • MacBook starting in 2016
  • MacBook Air starting in 2015
  • MacBook Pro starting in 2015
  • Mac mini starting in late 2014
  • Mac Pro starting in 2013
  • Mac Studio in 2022

If macOS Monterey will work on your Macintosh computer, the upgrade is recommended. It won’t slow your machine, and you shouldn’t have compatibility problems with your favorite apps or files.

If you’re upgrading from macOS Sierra or later, be aware your computer needs 26 gigabytes (GB) of available storage. If you’re updating from an even earlier operating system, you will need as much as 44GB of available hard disk space.

Apple’s California geography updates

Since fall 2013, Apple has released Macintosh operating systems named after places in California:

  • 2013, OS X Mavericks
  • 2014, OS X Yosemite
  • 2015, OS X El Capitan
  • 2016, macOS Sierra
  • 2017, macOS High Sierra
  • 2018, macOS Mojave
  • 2019, macOS Catalina
  • 2020, macOS Big Sur
  • 2021, macOS Monterey
  • 2022, macOS Ventura

Sources: Apple, AARP research

Tip: Before installing any upgrade, back up your Mac to be safe. Time Machine is a popular method, and it can work with various types of external hard drives. Or you can store files in iCloud or other cloud services.

If you’re using macOS Mojave or later, you can get an immediate update by going to the Apple icon in the upper left corner of your screen | System Preferences | Software Update. Or if you’re reading this on the Mac you want to upgrade, open the macOS Monterey page in the Apple App Store. Then click the Get button or iCloud download button. That way, you can save the update for later.

After you’ve downloaded the new macOS, the installer will open automatically. Click Continue and follow the onscreen prompts. Don’t close the lid or put your Mac to sleep until installation is complete. Your Mac might restart several times during the process.

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After macOS Monterey is installed, you will be notified when updates are available. For example, Apple is now on Monterey version 12.5. Or you can click the Apple icon | System Preferences | Software Update to check for updates at any time.

Benefits and bonuses for macOS Monterey users

Five highlights of the new operating system:

1. Better FaceTime reception. If you enjoy video or audio calls via FaceTime, new features include “voice isolation” to ensure your voice is crystal clear to others by eliminating background noise; “spatial audio” to allow voices during a call to sound like they are coming from where a person is positioned on the screen; “portrait mode” to blur your background for a sleek video effect that works on Macs with an M1 processor; and “grid view” that shows participants in same-sized tiles.

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During FaceTime calls, SharePlay lets you share your favorite movies, music, projects and TV shows with friends and family in real time. You also have the ability to collaborate while in apps.

2. A new Focus. Early adopters got their Focus tool, a do-not-disturb function that allows some of your contacts and notifications to selectively show up live for you, on their iPhones and iPads a month before it was available to Mac users.

Now you can choose to silence Instagram comments on last night’s food pics if you’re trying to concentrate on your Mac during work hours, too. Once you enable Focus, you have several customization options, such as letting others know when you’re not available or having your Focus apply across all devices.

3. Notes app revamp. Collaborate with others, create notes from anywhere and stay organized. The new Notes features include the ability to jot down thoughts in any app and on any website with automatic synchronizing across Apple devices. Activity View allows you to categorize your notes with tags to find them quickly and easily.

4. Safari browser redesign. If you do nothing, Safari will retain the look you’re used to. But a new tab design can combine tabs, the tool bar and the search field into a minimalist design. Tab Groups offer a new way to save and manage tabs by grouping together similar sites, such as those tied to an upcoming trip. These groups also can sync across Mac, iPhone and iPad.

5. Shortcuts arrive. Like on iPhone and iPad, Shortcuts help you automate everyday tasks and remain productive with the apps you use the most. Perhaps you want to create a Shortcut that automatically opens two specific apps to run side by side in Split Screen mode, such as Safari on the left and Mail on the right.

No problem, you can set your own Shortcuts or use ready-made ones. Say the name of the shortcut aloud, and Siri can open it, too.

Other bonuses

• AirPlay to Mac lets you play, present and share just about anything from your iPhone or iPad to your Mac’s display.

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• Live Text detects text in photos, including phone numbers and websites, allowing you to easily copy and paste the material into your notes.

• Universal Control allows you to use a single mouse and keyboard between Mac and iPad.

No software is perfect. If you scour the web, you will find some complaints about bugs and performance with the latest version of macOS Monterey.

Be aware of potential battery drain, screens that freeze or lock up, TouchID problems and Wi-Fi or Bluetooth crashes. Often these things can be annoying but also can be fixed by restarting your device. Enable automatic updates so you’ll get the next version of the operating system to fix any glitches.

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