When it comes to upgrading to macOS 12 Monterey, we’re unsurprisingly seeing both good and bad experiences.
On the good side, early impressions suggest that Monterey is overall more of a refinement release rather than a major architectural leap on Apple’s part. A quick look back at the significant changes unavoidable in previous versions of macOS:
macOS 10.14 Mojave: Automatically converted boot hard drives and Fusion drives to APFS
macOS 10.15 Catalina: Stopped supporting 32-bit apps and introduced a read-only System volume
macOS 11 Big Sur: Redesigned much of the interface, moved to a signed System volume, added support for Apple silicon, and moved Time Machine drives to APFS
In contrast, Monterey offers quite a few compelling features—including Shortcuts, Live Text, AirPlay reception, live location updating in Find My, Universal Control (soon), and FaceTime screen sharing (soon)—without the kind of foundational changes that caused consternation in previous macOS versions. There are also smaller improvements that may be welcome, such as an improved interface in the Finder when copying large files and AppleScript being reportedly much faster in Monterey. Plus, as Howard Oakley notes, Apple seems to be focusing its bug fix and security attention on Monterey over Big Sur and Catalina.
All that would suggest that you could contemplate an upgrade sooner rather than later. I’ve been running Monterey on my M1-based MacBook Air for months now, and I’m planning to move my 2020 27-inch iMac to Monterey as soon as I have a free weekend afternoon to fuss with it.
However, on the bad side of the equation, reports have been coming in of USB hubs having trouble under Monterey. Symptoms vary somewhat, with some hubs failing entirely while others have trouble only with certain ports. Reportedly, Apple is aware of the problem, so the next update to Monterey will likely include a fix. In the meantime, if you rely on a USB hub, it’s worth delaying your upgrade.
Another issue that has plagued a small number of users is Macs with T2 chips being bricked after updating to Monterey. Apple said in a statement to Rene Ritchie that it has fixed a firmware bug with the T2 chip and the updated firmware is now included with existing macOS updates. Anyone who was affected by this should contact Apple support for help.
Plus, some of those who have upgraded older Macs with third-party SSDs, including TidBITS reader synderlic, are receiving an error when upgrading that states, “Required firmware update could not be installed. Compatible internal storage is required in order to update.” The macOS installer refuses to install a necessary Mac firmware update if it doesn’t detect an Apple SSD. This problem isn’t actually new to Monterey, but it still affects Macs whose firmware hasn’t automatically been upgraded to the necessary version. The workaround is to reinstall the original Apple SSD, install Monterey on it (which upgrades the firmware), put the third-party SSD back in, and then upgrade it to Monterey. Of course, that assumes you still have the original Apple SSD; if that’s not true, you may have to acquire one. It may also be worth trying to boot from an external drive and figure out an upgrade path that results in upgraded firmware.
Lastly, Apple tech guru Howard Oakley had issues with a new MacBook Pro. It came with macOS 12.0, but he wanted to update it to the current macOS 12.0.1 immediately. That proved to be a time-consuming and error-prone process that succeeded after he manually reconfigured his networking settings to use the public OpenDNS and Cloudflare DNS servers. That seems like an odd solution because it’s hard to imagine Apple relying on update servers that wouldn’t have well-advertised DNS names. Still, it’s easy to try and has no downside. In addition, setting a different DNS server helped another person on TidBITS Talk who had trouble accessing the Internet after upgrading to Monterey.
Neither the good nor the bad about Monterey changes our general upgrade advice, which is that it’s worth waiting a bit longer unless you’re an early adopter who is happy to puzzle through unexpected problems. We don’t subscribe to rigid formulas that claim to specify exactly which update is ideal, instead preferring to get a feel for the quantity, severity, and prevalence of the bugs that Apple fixes with each update. With luck, we’ll be able to give the go-ahead to upgrade sooner rather than later.
Finally, in an earlier version of this article, I suffered from tunnel vision and assumed that all recent news surrounding upgrades must relate to Monterey, sharing an interesting problem and workaround from Mr. Macintosh. However, it revolved around upgrading to Big Sur, not to Monterey. Oops!
So if you’re on Mojave or Catalina and thinking about upgrading to Big Sur now instead of Monterey, beware of an installation issue that can result in a stuck Mac. It happens when Spotlight’s mdworker process has, for an as-yet-unknown reason, left tens of thousands of files in a temporary folder. The Big Sur installer chokes when it hits that folder and can leave the Mac in an unusable state.
Happily, Mr. Macintosh has provided instructions on how to check your Mac to see if it will suffer from the problem, fix it before upgrading, and recover from a stuck upgrade. Kudos to him, those on the MacAdmins Slack who helped gather information, and Apple engineering for tracking down the problem. It will likely go away as an issue once Apple can release new installers.