Each year, Apple releases a new version of macOS, free of charge and complete with new features and improvements. So should you jump in right away, or is it better to wait a few weeks or months for the dust to settle first? Here are some things to consider.
New Features Every Fall
Mac owners are used to free operating system upgrades by now. Every fall, usually in late October, Apple unleashes the newest major version of macOS. These releases have a new name (like “Ventura” or “Big Sur”), a new major version number (like 13.0), and a decent list of new features and changes.
It can be tempting to see these features and immediately upgrade without a second thought. These changes don’t usually require that you own brand-new Mac hardware, so the latest and greatest features are surprisingly within reach. All you need to do is install the free update.
Some examples of new features and changes over the years include a new approach to window management with Stage Manager in macOS 13 Ventura, a macOS version of the Shortcuts workflow app with the release of macOS 12 Monterey, and a new iOS-inspired user interface with the release of macOS 11 Big Sur.
In addition to entirely new features, bundled applications like Safari, Mail, or Notes may receive major updates or smaller tweaks. Safari gets an annual update to keep it in line with the latest browser standards and technologies, while Mail has integrated new iCloud features like Hide My Email in the past.
Apple gradually improved the Notes app over the course of several software update cycles, and now it’s one of the best free note-taking solutions around.
Some updates allow you to make better use of the hardware you already own. For example, macOS Ventura adds support for Continuity Camera, which allows you to use your iPhone’s camera as a webcam.
When macOS 10.15 Catalina was released in 2019, Sidecar allowed iPad owners to use their tablet as a separate display, with Apple Pencil support.
These updates usually require the newest version of macOS, iPadOS, or iOS, which means you’ve got to go all-in on the latest software if you want to use them. Nevertheless, they can make for compelling reasons to upgrade if you are eager to get more use out of your existing hardware.
New Problems Every Fall
Every new version of macOS goes through a lengthy beta period. This starts with internal builds tested by Apple, developer betas that are usually quite unstable, public betas which are in much better shape, and release candidates that are only a few steps removed from the final “gold” release.
Even with literally months of testing, problems often persist. New features may be buggy or not work at all, and some may be missing entirely. In 2020, macOS 11 Big Sur was criticized for a long list of problems, and the update even rendered some MacBook Pro models unusable.
The installation process was prone to failing (requiring a complete do-over), and problems with Apple’s app notarization process caused further software slowdowns.
The previous year, macOS 10.15 Catalina made headlines for being notably less reliable than the version Apple released the year before. Critics blamed Apple’s tight annual release schedules, limitations of Apple’s bug reporting, and an increasingly complex ecosystem of converging product lines.
Some new features can be buggy, and some may even be missing entirely if they were deemed too broken to launch. One notable example was Catalina’s iCloud Drive folder-sharing feature which was delayed twice, eventually appearing with the release of macOS 10.15.4.
Be prepared for some unpredictability with each new major macOS release. Not all of these problems will cause you a headache; some will just be minor bugs that are easy to live with until a fix rolls around.
If you’re used to working around bugs with AirDrop or Handoff (some of Apple’s more temperamental features), you’ll know what to expect.
Things to Consider Before Upgrading
Most problems are minor annoyances, but some Mac users may encounter deal breakers.
When Apple introduced macOS 10.15 Catalina in 2019, support for 32-bit applications was dropped entirely. Many users found out the hard way that their older apps would no longer run at all on macOS Catalina. This affected everything from legacy applications to classic games. (Half-Life and Half-Life 2 still don’t have native 64-bit versions for macOS, for example.)
While that may be an extreme example, software incompatibility is a real threat. When Apple changes how macOS works, some older applications may not run at all. Others might have their core functionality severely limited. This will need to be remedied by developers with an update specifically targeting the current macOS release.
If you depend on an app for work, school, or a creative outlet like music production or photography, don’t go into the upgrade blind. Check with developers or Apple communities before you take the leap to ensure that your software of choice works with the latest version of macOS.
Babysitting a buggy system while trying to get work done is not ideal. Read up on the state of the latest update before you adopt it and all the problems it brings. You might be ok with taking your chances on a personal Mac used for web browsing and email. But for work, the old “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” adage very much applies.
Remember that Apple will continue to release important security updates for the previous version of macOS, with urgent updates coming for even older versions. Waiting to update shouldn’t put you at greater risk.
Problems Get Fixed In Time
The good news is that Apple will fix these problems in time. Small fixes for urgent issues (particularly security problems) often come quickly in the form of minor updates (e.g., 13.0.1). Larger updates (e.g., 13.1) fix a broader range of issues and may even introduce new or delayed features.
It may be wiser to sit out the initial upgrade and simply wait. You can allow others to deal with and report the issues while Apple patches things up. You can then upgrade at a later date when things are a little more stable.
New Mac, New macOS
Remember: you can’t downgrade a Mac to a previous version of macOS if the machine didn’t exist when that version came out. For example, you can’t run macOS 11 Big Sur on a 2021 MacBook Pro that shipped with macOS 12 Monterey.
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