After loading the public beta of Monterey for the first time, I had a hard time telling if I had actually upgraded from Big Sur. But then I launched the new Safari browser, which made my head spin. Say goodbye to the tab bar – get used to juggling your tabs, address bar, and navigation buttons in a thin menu at the top.
Obviously, the goal is to devote as much screen space to web pages as possible. This allows for a better browsing experience on small devices, like the 13in MacBook Air I tested on. But it also means a lot more clutter when trying to sort your tabs. It’s not bad when it comes to a few tabs, but once I’ve racked up 10 or more, they all boil down to their site icons. Previously, it took a lot more tabs to make Safari unusable.
While you can still hover your cursor over the icons to see a small preview of the page, it can be a slow process if you’re trying to navigate tons of tabs from a single site. You can also group tabs into groups now, which might come in handy if you’re in a frenzy of searching. You can name tab groups and switch between different sets in an instant. It’s a more elegant solution than opening more Safari windows, and most importantly, it’s also synced to the browser on iOS and iPadOS.
Beyond the new interface, Safari is by far the most zippered browser on macOS. I usually juggle Chrome and Safari at the same time – it’s useful for separating work and personal connections – and Apple’s browser always loads pages a bit faster.
FaceTime and SharePlay
In macOS Monterey, FaceTime starts to look a lot more like Zoom. And I guess that makes sense, given how essential group video chats have been over the past year or so. You can now start a FaceTime call without calling anyone directly. Once you are in it you can either invite your friends or create a link that anyone can join, even if they are using an Android device. Your calls are more like events anticipating a group of people, rather than one-on-one chats where you can tie up a friend or two.
In my testing, a friend was able to reach my FaceTime web link through their iPhone in iOS 14, but they heard nothing. When he switched to his Mac, everything worked fine. However, since running macOS Catalina, it always showed up as a FaceTime web call, instead of automatically opening the app.
If you have AirPods or other headphones that support Spatial Audio, you will also be able to hear people’s voices coming from different directions depending on their on-screen position in FaceTime. They’ll need to run the beta of Monterey or iOS / iPadOS 15 for the feature to work, but that will definitely be more useful once those updates are finally removed. During my testing, I heard two friends coming from the left and right channels of my AirPods Pro. It is as if you are sitting at a small table together. I imagine this would be useful for visually impaired and hearing impaired users as well, as the separation makes it easier to track multiple people.
I imagine a lot more people will use FaceTiming their friends to take advantage of SharePlay, which allows you to watch shows and listen to music with others. Its use could however be more intuitive. When we tried out the feature with other beta testers from Monterey and iOS 15, it took a while for us to figure out that there was no SharePlay button in FaceTime. Instead, you need to start playing media, which triggers a pop-up notification asking if you want to share it with friends or view it on your own.
Once I figured that out it was nice to be able to sit and watch a few minutes of Mythic Quest with my friends. Unfortunately, even though FaceTime opens up to Android and Windows users with web video chats, those people won’t be able to enjoy SharePlay content. And it remains to be seen if and how media providers will embrace the service. With Apple TV + content, you and your friends must have subscriptions to watch anything. I can’t imagine Netflix or Disney + being more lax and allowing a single subscriber to share something with friends.
Other notable additions:
The new focus modes are a good way to reduce distractions caused by notifications. You can also customize your Focus options to allow messages from specific users.
Quick Notes is an easy way to retrieve quotes and other snippets of information from websites and documents. They appear in the Notes app and sync across all of your Apple devices with iCloud.
I didn’t have a lot of time to dive into the shortcuts, but at first glance they seem like a more knife-friendly macOS Automations stab. One of the built-in shortcuts is supposed to make a GIF from video files, but it returned an error every time I tried to trigger it with Siri.
Live Text is a nifty feature that lets you select text embedded in photos. This is useful for retrieving information on receipts, and I would bet it would be useful for handwritten notes as well.
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