Somewhere between Santa Cruz and Point Pinos is Monterey Bay – first discovered by Europeans in 1542, still a home for sea otters, and also the namesake of Apple for the next edition of the system of Mac operating, macOS Monterey. The operating system (not the bay) is now available for public beta testing, so here’s a very quick first look.
Good: unity is strength
Apple continues to work to bring its operating systems closer, while respecting the essential differences specific to each of the platforms they drive. Catalyst, Apple Silicon, and lots of UI tweaks mean that the main features of the Mac and the iPad are almost identical: Shortcuts, Focus, Quick Note, SharePlay are banner features on both platforms. The growing list of similarities does nothing to erode the unique nature of each. Despite common characteristics, the Mac remains the Mac and the iPad clearly remains an iPad.
Universal Control is not available in this beta, but remains an articulation of how Apple positions the two platforms as complementary systems with their own unique advantages. In theory, Mac and iPad should look more or less the same.
One of the best illustrations of this unit is that the Shortcuts app is now available on Mac. The implementation is good, really good, and I think we’ll see more and more Mac users getting more involved in creating their own automations. The fact that these can also support AppleScript and import existing Automator actions makes it even more likely that advanced Mac users will embrace the shortcuts. This is a feature that I think will make it easier to complete tasks as it continues to mature.
There seem to be a lot of features like this. I haven’t checked FaceTime, as most of my contacts will continue to use Zoom despite the web interface now supported by Apple, but QuickNotes, Focus, Visual lookup, and Universal Control seem to be brilliant tools that work on all of them. Apple’s platforms, seem to work well (even in the beta) and will help get things done on a Mac. Or an iPad. Or an iPhone.
And then there is Safari.
The least: for a few more pixels
I hope that over time I will end up liking the new Safari look. When it comes to significant user interface changes, familiarity sometimes breeds contentment. But I’m not there yet.
The biggest change is replacing the two bars at the top of the browser window (or three, if you’re using the Favorites bar, like I do) with a single bar that combines search, tabbed websites and everything in between. In theory, I guess this means you can see more of a website and less browser when using a smaller screen. But that requires too much compromise for my taste.
Why do I feel like this?
- The tabs are smaller than those in the current operating system, which means when you have multiple windows open (as I always do) they become unreadable.
- Apple’s decision to have each tab reflect the color of the website taxes my retinas as I knock in frustration Control tab to find the tab containing the site whose title I cannot read.
- I don’t like that the address bar is built into individual tabs.
- Why do it take more clicks to complete some tasks I use daily in exchange for a more colorful browsing experience that doesn’t really help me? I use the share button and I’m sure most people do. Where is my private window?
Basically for a few extra pixels of display space when using Safari on a laptop I ended up with a web browser getting in my way when trying to do things. How does this extra friction benefit me?
Tab groups are useful, I guess, but they don’t really solve a particularly pressing problem, given that you can already bookmark all the tabs you currently have open in a Safari window. To my charity, I think Apple’s decisions regarding Safari on Mac are so difficult that they must have been made for a purpose we don’t yet know about. Otherwise, it sounds a bit like one of those managerial triumphs that make little positive difference to the Mac community.
If that’s any consolation, I don’t like Safari on iPad OS 15 either. I want to see what I’m browsing and find it all the most confusing.
The (not really) ugly: Tousled transition
When he announced Monterey, Apple praised all of its bells and whistles, but the truth is, some features just won’t work on all Macs, including the Macs that Apple still sells. Want your Mac to scan photos into text? It will not work on Intel machines. This interactive globe in Maps? Mac M1 only. Detailed “experiences” of the city in Maps? You need a post-Intel chip. Spatial audio and on-device dictation also require Apple chips.
There is nothing wrong with that, of course. This reflects how far Apple has come and means that over the next two years the company will introduce an increasing number of features into its operating system that will only work on an Apple Silicon Mac.
Of those included in this release, Live Text is definitely my favorite – not only in terms of accessibility, but because most Mac users will be happy to be able to use a Mac, Continuity, and their iPhone to automatically scan and copy text. from images. It is a valuable business and commercial tool that is available free at the system level, as long as you use Apple Silicon.
Eventually, I expect Apple to combine its machine translation systems with this feature to make it possible to read (or have Siri read) books, road signs, or whatever you come across. Frankly, this is the real Rosetta engine in this room.
You can’t fault Apple for not explaining this precisely, as it continues to iterate macOS for the next several years; it will introduce more features that just won’t work on non-Apple Silicon Macs. This is a truth that every Mac user must now accept.
On the bright side, that’s a truth toned down quite effectively by the significant power and performance benefits you’ll experience when you upgrade to Mac M1s.
Next step: Keep testing
This is a first look, not a complex set of tests. At first glance, I think most Mac users will find a lot of things that they might enjoy in the new macOS. But I don’t think this fun will continue until Safari.
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