We Tried All The New Features Coming To The Mac This Fall: Here’s What We Thought

We Tried All The New Features Coming To The Mac This Fall: Here’s What We Thought

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CNN —  

Apple’s macOS Monterey quite literally turns the knob of Apple’s mac software to 12. And while it’s not the full visual redesign we saw last year with macOS Big Sur — which also set the stage for Apple Silicon-powered devices — it’s a significant update with some great features.

We’ve been running the developer beta of macOS Monterey since early June, and now Apple is rolling out its public beta of the software. You can sign up for it and dive right in, but we need to warn you — a beta is a beta, and that means you can expect bugs, glitches and software issues. The public beta of macOS Monterey is not final software, though it is quite stable this year. We’d highly recommend installing this on a secondary device, and be sure to back up all of your data; you can see our picks for best external drives here.

The trend with Apple’s software this year is consistency with focus and context across iOS, iPadOS, watchOS, tvOS and the Mac. FaceTime and all of the new sharing features under the SharePlay umbrella are seriously impressive, along with a new take on web browsing and a long list of other features — Maps, Focus modes, Messages and Live Text included.

Wondering if macOS Monterey will be worth the download? Here are our impressions of the biggest new features coming to MacBook, iMac and Mac Mini this fall.

Mike Andronico/CNN

FaceTime is getting a major face-lift on all of Apple’s new software updates — macOS Monterey included — and SharePlay is a huge part of that. This new feature lets you share selected content on a FaceTime and enjoy it in real time with friends and family, making it perfect for remote movie nights or jamming out to music in sync with someone.

SharePlay has worked fairly well in our testing so far — once we started a SharePlay session with a friend, we were able to enjoy some sad indie rock tracks from Lucy Dacus and Pom Pom Squad over a FaceTime call. We were both able to control the music from our respective Apple Music app, and had the option to add a song to the queue or play it immediately (think of it like a shared virtual jukebox). SharePlay is currently limited to a handful of Apple’s own apps in beta, but you’ll be able to use it to binge from select services over FaceTime calls in the final software. At WWDC, Apple mentioned HBO Max, Twitch, Disney+ and TikTok as planned launch partners.

FaceTime also finally has screen sharing, allowing you to instantly show someone your desktop over a video call. While Messages previously supported this, it’s nice to have it all housed from within a central app. Screen sharing in FaceTime also worked pretty reliably, and felt similar to popular video calling apps such as Zoom, Webex and Discord. You can opt to share your entire screen or just a specific window, and we didn’t have any issues either sending or receiving a shared screen. If you’re on a FaceTime call with someone who connects via an iPhone or iPad, they can even share that screen with you as well. We’d also note that Apple doesn’t support the other user controlling an iOS or iPadOS screen.

As with iOS 15 and iPadOS 15, Monterey also lets you use Portrait Mode during FaceTime calls, which creates a nice bokeh effect that also blurs out any mess that might be behind you in your home office. It’s comparable to the portrait selfies you’ll get on an iPhone and looks better than the background blur you’ll find on apps like Zoom and Google Meet, though you will need an M1 Mac to take advantage of it. Any iPhone that currently supports Portrait Mode via a camera can support this as well (an iPad requires the A12 chip or newer)

Mike Andronico/CNN

Further adding to FaceTime’s value as a legitimate Zoom alternative is the fact that you can finally FaceTime with folks on Android and Windows. The process is super simple — there’s now a Create Link button within the FaceTime app, which you can use to generate a link to your call and share it over a text message, an email or an AirDrop, to name just a few options. You’ll even be able to send FaceTime links as calendar invites in the future, making it easy to plan out a meeting or family catch-up.

Cross-platform FaceTime mostly worked well, allowing us to join a call from both a Windows laptop and an Android phone after following a link we generated. Just note that those on non-Apple devices will be using a browser-based version of FaceTime that omits a few features, such as the ability to use Portrait Mode and SharePlay. But Apple’s approach to getting more folks into the FaceTime fold is a solid one so far, and we look forward to testing it out with larger group calls across various platforms when the final software launches later this year.

Mike Andronico/CNN

Apple’s macOS Monterey brings AirPlay to the Mac, allowing you to beam any AirPlay-supported content (which includes videos and music from most major apps) directly to your Mac desktop or laptop. This worked pretty smoothly in our testing — once we entered a one-time code to establish the AirPlay connection, we were able to play Spotify tracks and YouTube videos on our 24-inch (M1-based) and 27-inch iMacs by simply hitting the AirPlay button on our phone.

This effectively turned our iMac into a miniature television that we could send content to without having to touch our mouse and keyboard. While this feature will work with any Mac running Monterey, it’s an especially great fit for the 24-inch and 27-inch iMacs, which have great displays and speakers that allow them to function as all-in-one entertainment centers.

Also new to Monterey is Quick Note, which is exactly what it sounds like. This feature has a number of uses, including letting you highlight a line of text from a website and instantly save that quote — complete with a link to said website — directly into Notes. We were able to do exactly that with a basic right-click and “New Quick Note,” creating an instant note that was accessible on all of our Apple gadgets. You can also hover your mouse in the bottom right corner of the display to trigger a Quick Note window. This feature seems more useful on iPadOS 15, where we used it often for taking notes with an Apple Pencil after a quick swipe, but it’s still nice to have on Mac for those times when inspiration strikes.

Mike Andronico/CNN

Much like on iOS 15 and iPadOS 15, Safari has gotten a major glow-up for macOS Monterey. Apple’s web browser sports a new minimalist look that certainly takes some getting used to, but you’ll get some handy features in return if you’re willing to stick it out.

The first thing you’ll likely notice about the new Safari is the revamped tab bar up top, which condenses the typical web browser layout by placing the URL/search field directly within your current open tab. This means that there’s only a slim row of tab icons sitting above whatever website you’re on, creating a clean look that we really dig. We also got used to the new search bar layout pretty quickly — unlike the bottom-facing navigation bar on iOS 15 and iPadOS 15, this minimized, top-facing field felt pretty intuitive and familiar for both entering websites and searching around on Google.

Our only minor gripe is with the design of the tabs themselves, which are so minimal that they can blend in with the actual Safari window. As a result, there were a few instances where we accidentally dragged the entire Safari app when we meant to just move a tab over.

The new design also adapts to the color of whatever website you’re on, which is a really nice touch. When we visited CNN.com, the entire tab bar took on the bold black to blend in with the top of the website, while firing up BestBuy.com turned the top bar into a pleasant deep blue to match the color of the site. Combined with the reduced amount of clutter at the top of Safari, this new style helps make navigating websites just a bit more immersive and free of distractions.

Safari’s refreshed look is great, but it’s the browser’s new Tab Groups feature that really stole our attention. You can now create multiple groups of tabs that you can easily hop between on the left side of the Safari screen, which is handy for, say, creating distinct groups for work, personal use or your favorite recipes. Adding a tab to a specific group (or creating a new one) is as simple as right-clicking it and choosing a group. Once we had a few set up, we could easily jump between various smaller sets of tabs from the left side of the screen, rather than letting our browser become flooded with dozens of websites on the same page (let’s be real, we’ve all done it).

Safari’s approach to Tab Groups seems much more useful than what Google Chrome offers. On Google’s browser, you can organize tabs into groups using color-coded brackets, but they all still live on the same vertical row atop your browser — meaning things can still get messy with lots of tabs open. Apple’s Tab Groups work more like distinct profiles or folders, allowing you to quickly navigate different sets of websites depending on whether you’re in the middle of a workday or

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