macOS Monterey is finally ready for the public.

Well, sort of. There are, you see, a couple of notable absences.

I’ll get to those in a moment, but I thought I’d give you my first impressions of Apple’s latest operating system for the Mac.

I didn’t participate in the beta. This was partly due to time, but also because I decided I wanted to experience Monterey once the inevitable tweaking, backtracking, and show-stopping tinkering of the beta period had finished.

So, without further ado, here’s what I’ve discovered.

Observations

The update itself was, as always, a cinch. Thus far, I’ve undertaken it on both my M1 MacBook Air and 24’ iMac without trouble. Your mileage may vary.

After upgrading to Monterey, you’d be forgiven for double-checking that the update actually took place (I did). This isn’t a Big Sur upgrade; Monterey looks pretty much identical to the previous version. In fact, the only noticeable design tweak I’ve spotted so far is the slightly more rounded notifications.

A quick shout-out to the new wallpaper, too. I love it. Sure, we never get quite the depth of wallpaper options I’d like, but there’s something about Apple’s new minimalist, pastel vibe that I very much dig.

Let’s jump into the key features of macOS Monterey.

The headline feature: FaceTime updates

Apple spent more time on Monterey’s updates to FaceTime than anything else during WWDC, and that’s entirely understandable. We’re living in a world where digital communication has transitioned from useful to vital, and Apple had little choice but to bring FaceTime up to speed with the competition. Certainly, seeing the ’Create Link’ button upon opening the new version of FaceTime is very satisfying (this allows you to share the call with anyone, regardless of the device they’re using).

There’s just one issue: I barely use FaceTime. I spend far more time in Teams and Zoom, simply because my work demands that I do so. FaceTime is therefore usually reserved for quick family catch-ups. I suspect for a great many people, it’s a similar story.

As a result, I haven’t tested the new FaceTime features. I probably won’t, either, unless I stumble into them by accident during a call with my parents.

However, it’s worth pointing out that one of the most interesting new features is MIA. SharePlay allows Apple Music and Apple TV content to be shared during FaceTime calls. At least, that’s what we were told during WWDC.

Where is it, Tim?

Safari

Apple’s web browser suffered from a painful development process during the beta period. Most of the user complaints and backtracking on Apple’s behalf was centred on the new tab bar – a feature that clearly hadn’t been thought through enough by the user interface team.

Thankfully, Apple appears to have rounded on a final design that mixes convenience with pleasing aesthetics. But you can still return to the ‘classic’ tab view if the new one isn’t for you.

Personally, I like the ‘compact tab bar’. It provides a little more screen real estate when you have multiple tabs open and I like the way it changes the colour of the entire interface based on the website you’re viewing.

Safari now also features something called ‘Tab Groups’. This is, essentially, a way of creating multiple sets of open tabs, which you can name and recall at any time. In principle, this is pretty cool. But there’s one significant downside: Tab Groups always remember their last state. So, if you carefully craft a set of tabs for a specific task to which you return regularly but happen to open a new tab – or close one – during that session, that’s how the tab group will look the next time you revisit it.

This renders Tab Groups practically useless unless you become very disciplined with the way you use them. To preserve their state, you need to leave each tab intact, and, if you want to open a non-related website, return to the start page (which you can access conveniently from the drop-down menu at the top-left of Safari).

Sounds like a right faff, doesn’t it?

I need to spend more time with Tab Groups, but I don’t hold out much hope at this stage.

Focus Modes

This is my favourite new feature across macOS, iOS, and iPadOS.

Focus Modes allow you to customise how your Mac, iPhone, and iPad respond to notifications. For instance, you can shut off notifications entirely for deep work sessions, or allow specific apps and people through.

I’ve been using Focus Modes constantly since iOS 15 arrived, and it’s a huge benefit for when I’m writing, filming, or attending meetings. I’ve even set up a focus mode for working out, which shuts off the digital world around me and turns on automatically when I enter the gym.

In Monterey, Focus Modes are a little simpler than they are on iOS (due to the absence of multiple Home Pages, you can’t customise what you can see on the screen). But they’re just as useful. They’re also synced across devices, so if you switch to a Focus Mode on your iPhone, your Mac will react and do the same automatically.

There’s some cool automation available, too. You can set Monterey to switch to specific Focus Modes based on the time, your location, or the app you’re using. Neat.

I highly recommend digging into Focus Modes if you want to get the most out of your day.

Notes

Beyond tags (handy, but I probably won’t use them) and activity logs (I never collaborate on Notes), the headline feature for Apple’s little note-taking app is Quick Notes.

For the uninitiated, Quick Notes are easily accessible notes that can be created at any time via a simple shortcut and attached to specific apps and websites.

On the iPad, Quick Notes are accessed via a swipe up from the bottom-right of the screen. That’s exactly where they reside in Monterey, too (Quick Notes is actually set up as a Hot Corner if you don’t have one there already).

However, there are some issues.

The implementation of Quick Notes on macOS feels a little cumbersome. I expected to be able to create a new Quick Note by swiping up from the bottom corner of the trackpad, but that doesn’t work. Instead, you move your mouse to the bottom-right of the screen to initiate the Hot Corner to which the feature is attached.

Quick Notes also fire up the entire Notes interface behind them, which isn’t the behaviour on iOS. This always forces me to minimise Notes itself to preserve just the Quick Note and help me see whatever it was I was taking the note on in the first place.

Quick Notes ‘attach’ themselves to compatible apps. At the moment, that extends as far as Safari and Messages, but third party developers are slowly jumping on board. The idea is simple enough; for instance, you highlight a piece of text in Safari and attach a quick note to it (you can do so by right-clicking on the text, too) that note then resurfaces when you revisit the web page in question. This works as it should, but you need to look out for the note at the bottom-right of the screen; it’s easy to miss (occasionally it pops up, but that feature seems rather too random to rely on).

Lastly, when you create a Quick Note, macOS places it in a Quick Notes folder in Notes. That means you have to triage your Quick Notes regularly if you want to avoid losing track of them entirely. But who’s got time for that? It would be nice to have the ability to choose which folder they head into.

I’m not sold on Quick Notes, I’ll be honest. On the iPad, it has lots of merits, but on Monterey, it just feels a bit… tacked on.

Messages

As noted in a recent video, I live in the UK, which means I use WhatsApp 99% of the time for my messaging duties.

This renders Messages an app that I only use for one chat thread between myself and two mates. That’s it. As a result, I very rarely get to experience the mildly interesting updates Apple makes to it each year.

This time, we’re treated to ’shared with you’, which is a system-wide(ish) feature that places every piece of content that has been sent to you via Messages in one convenient bucket. You’ll find it in Photos, Safari, Apple News, Apple Podcasts, and the Apple TV app.

I didn’t. Because my mates only send me text messages. So… Meh.

And finally…

There are three more updates I’d like to highlight today. Here are my quick thoughts on each one:

  • Universal Control: Where is it, Tim?
  • Live Text: This is far cooler than for which I’d given it credit. Find yourself an image with text on it, and right-click on the text; Monterey will automatically highlight the text and give you the option to copy it for pasting elsewhere as plain text. It works pretty flawlessly.
  • Shortcuts: I’m not a Shortcuts user. But Monterey might change that. I’ll return with more thoughts on this particular feature once I’ve had a play, but the presence of Shortcuts on macOS is a big deal for many people and, once you start hunting through the gallery, it’s clear that there’s literally no limit to what you can do.

I’ve not covered all of Monterey today. And that bothers me; what have I missed? Let me know your favourite Monterey features in the comments!