The Real System Requirements for Apple’s 2021 Operating Systems

posted in: July 2021 | 0
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We’re all eagerly awaiting iOS 15, iPadOS 15, macOS 12 Monterey, and watchOS 8, but will they run on the devices you have now? Apple continues to do an excellent job of supporting old devices, but many iPhone and iPad features will require at least an A12 Bionic chip. On the Mac side, some of the new features require an M1 processor.

Overall, maintaining support for old devices while restricting certain new features to more capable recent models is a great strategy. That way, fewer people are forced to buy new hardware just to participate, but the new features encourage hardware upgrades for those who want to take advantage of them.

Let’s dig into the details, first for iOS 15 and iPadOS 15, moving on to macOS 12 Monterey with side trips for Universal Control and AirPlay on Mac, and finishing off with watchOS 8.

iOS 15 and iPadOS 15

We cover iOS 15 and iPadOS 15 together since they have so much overlap. Both support an impressively wide range of hardware, with iOS 15 matching iOS 14’s capability to run on the iPhone 6s from 2015.

Device Introduced Chip
iPhone 12/mini/Pro/Pro Max 2020 A14 Bionic
iPhone SE (2nd generation) 2020 A13 Bionic
iPhone 11/Pro/Pro Max 2019 A13 Bionic
iPhone XR/XS/XS Max 2018 A12 Bionic
iPhone X 2017 A11 Bionic
iPhone 8/8 Plus 2017 A11 Bionic
iPhone 7/7Plus 2016 A10 Fusion
iPhone 6s/6s Plus 2015 A9
iPhone SE (1st generation) 2016 A9
iPod touch (7th generation) 2019 A10 Fusion

And iPadOS 15 will even work on the A8X-powered iPad Air 2 from 2014 and the A8-powered iPad mini 4 from 2015.

Device Introduced Chip
iPad Pro 12.9-inch (1st–5th generation) 2015, 2017, 2018, 2020, 2021 A9X, A10X Fusion, A12X Bionic, A12Z Bionic, M1
iPad Pro 11-inch (1st–3rd generation) 2018, 2020, 2021 A12X Bionic, A12Z Bionic, M1
iPad Pro 10.5-inch 2017 A10X Fusion
iPad Pro 9.7-inch 2016 A9X
iPad Air (2, 3rd–4th generation) 2014, 2019, 2020 A8X, A12 Bionic, A14 Bionic
iPad (5th–8th generation) 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 A9, A10 Fusion, A10 Fusion, A12 Bionic
iPad mini (4, 5th generation) 2015, 2019 A8, A12 Bionic

However, a handful of iOS 15 and iPadOS 15 features require an A12 Bionic or later processor, which means you need one of these models:

  • iPhone XR, XS, XS Max and later, including the iPhone SE (2nd generation)
  • iPad Pro 12.9-inch (3rd generation) and later
  • iPad Pro 11-inch
  • iPad Air (3rd generation) and later
  • iPad (8th generation)
  • iPad mini (5th generation)

Features that require an A12 Bionic or later include:

  • Spatial Audio and Portrait Mode in FaceTime
  • The “all new city experience” and immersive walking directions in Maps
  • Live Text in Camera
  • Visual Lookup in Photos
  • Siri on-device processing, on-device personalization, on-device dictation, and continuous dictation
  • Animated backgrounds in the iOS 15 Weather app

Other features with specific system requirements include:

  • Car keys and home keys: iPhone XS and later
  • Walking steadiness: iPhone 8 and later
  • Zoom in QuickTake videos: iPhone XR, XS, XS Max, and later
  • 5G enhanced connectivity: iPhone 12 models, iPad Pro 12.9-inch (5th generation), and iPad Pro 11-inch (3rd generation)
  • Spatial Audio with head tracking using AirPods Pro and AirPods Max: iPhone 7 and later, iPad Pro 12.9-inch (3rd generation and later), iPad Pro 11-inch, iPad Air (3rd generation and later), iPad (6th generation and later), and iPad mini (5th generation)

macOS 12 Monterey

The macOS 12 Monterey situation is more complex, both in terms of models supported and features available only on Apple silicon Macs. These Macs will be able to run Monterey at a base level (follow the links for notes on how to identify your Mac):

Features that will require an Apple silicon processor include:

  • Portrait mode in FaceTime
  • Live Text in photos
  • New city experience and the interactive globe in Maps
  • Neural text to speech
  • On-device and continuous dictation

A few other features have specific requirements:

  • Spatial audio in FaceTime: Macs introduced in 2018 and later
  • AR Object Capture: Macs with at least 16 GB of RAM and 4 GB of VRAM
  • Low Power Mode: MacBook (Early 2016) and later and MacBook Pro (Early 2016) and later

Universal Control

To use Universal Control, the feature of Monterey and iPadOS 15 that lets you use a single keyboard and pointing device across several Macs and/or iPads, you’ll need one of these Macs:

  • iMac (2017 and later)
  • iMac (5K Retina 27-inch, Late 2015)
  • iMac Pro
  • Mac mini (2018 and later)
  • Mac Pro (2019)
  • MacBook Air (2018 and later)
  • MacBook Pro (2016 and later)
  • MacBook (2016 and later)

Also, only these iPads work with Universal Control. We list them here instead of with the iPadOS 15 requirements because you must initiate Universal Control from a Mac:

  • iPad Pro (all models, apparently)
  • iPad Air (3rd generation) and later
  • iPad (6th generation) and later
  • iPad mini (5th generation) and later

AirPlay to Mac

The new AirPlay to Mac feature, which lets you broadcast audio or video to a Mac from another Apple device, also has specific system requirements. It requires one of the following Macs to receive content:

  • iMac (2019 and later)
  • iMac Pro (2017)
  • Mac mini (2020 and later)
  • Mac Pro (2019)
  • MacBook Air (2018 and later)
  • MacBook Pro (2018 and later)

Apple says that transmitting content at full resolution requires one of the above supported Macs or one of these devices:

  • iPhone 7 and later
  • iPad Pro (2nd generation) and later
  • iPad Air (3rd generation) and later
  • iPad (6th generation) and later
  • iPad mini (5th generation) and later

That said, Apple also notes that older iPhone, iPad, and Mac models may share content at a lower resolution when “Allow AirPlay for” is set to “Everyone” or “Anyone on the same network” in System Preferences > Sharing.

watchOS 8

Finally, watchOS 8 works on the following devices—the same set that supported watchOS 7:

  • Apple Watch Series 6
  • Apple Watch SE
  • Apple Watch Series 5
  • Apple Watch Series 4
  • Apple Watch Series 3

Apple doesn’t go into specifics about what features work on which watches, simply saying “Not all features are available on all devices.” Most of those limitations are undoubtedly related to the lack of necessary hardware, such as the blood oxygen sensor that exists only on the Apple Watch Series 6.

We can hope that watchOS 8 will resolve the issues that make updating watchOS 7 on the Apple Watch Series 3 awkward (see “Apple Watch Series 3 Update Workarounds,” 12 April 2021).