Last Week on My Mac: Marking time

It’s seldom that we see Apple marking time with macOS updates, or for that matter releasing so many public betas. Yet it just released three macOS public betas in one week: Monterey 12.0 beta 9, macOS Big Sur 11.6.1 beta, and Catalina Security Update 2021-007 beta.

In the normal run of macOS updates, everything happens at breakneck speed. There’s seldom time for beta-releases of any security updates, and the first that even developers know about them is when they’ve been released. We know now that Big Sur has entered its two-year security-only update phase, as of 11.6 released almost a month ago on 13 September. Although it would be exciting to think that Apple has been busy fixing more bugs in Big Sur, I’m afraid that seems as likely as it continuing to maintain Mojave for another year.

What does seem more probable is that Apple intends releasing Big Sur 11.6.1 and Catalina Security Update 2021-007 simultaneously with the initial version of Monterey, but that’s lingering a little longer than it had expected while awaiting availability of the next batch of Apple Silicon Macs.

I did hear one rumour that Apple’s intended launch and release date had been 12 October, but it’s far too late now for it to announce a snap Event for next week. Last year, Apple left its main Mac launch until 10 November, releasing what turned out to be macOS 11.0.1 two days later. While it may be in no hurry this year, that would be an extraordinarily long period to mark time like this. The smart money has to be on an Event on 19 or 26 October, unless we’re all going to be left in limbo with yet more betas.

Monterey itself still has quite a bit of unfinished business. SharePlay seems to have moved to a future release, as have enhancements in Memories in Photos. According to several reports, and most surprising of all, Universal Control still hasn’t been sighted in the open, although some testers have claimed that they found a way to enable it in previous betas. Although it’s not inconceivable that Monterey is merely waiting for Universal Control, I can’t see Apple holding everything else up for that single feature, however impressed we were by it at WWDC.

Whatever its plans, this year Apple will want to avoid pre-installing a version of macOS which could brick these new Macs. Although I don’t think it was that widespread, macOS 11.0 last year wasn’t good news for those who didn’t heed the warning to update their new M1 Mac to 11.0.1 before going any further. Since then, Apple has had a year of experience and improvement which has ensured that complex mechanisms like the Secure Boot process are far more reliable. USB-C ports now work largely as expected, and booting an M1 Mac from an external disk is no longer a brash gamble.

It’s now nearly six months since Apple last announced an Apple Silicon Mac. With just four low-end models incorporating ARM processors in Apple SoCs, and only two memory configurations, Apple is well over halfway through its self-imposed two year transition period. It has been exceptionally unlucky in changing architecture and supplier during the current chip shortage, but its goal for the end of this year hasn’t changed. It needs to deliver a full range of mid-range Macs, including iMac, MacBook Pro and probably the Mac mini too.

It’s salutary to think that, at present, Apple offers its Intel Mac minis with three different processor options and up to 64 GB of memory, while the current M1 Mac mini is essentially only available with two memory configurations, 8 and 16 GB. Offering more memory, which many potential users deem essential, isn’t just a matter of fitting different modules during final assembly of the logic board, but requires a different version of the SoC in its carrier, with the SDRAM built in.

There are other glaring gaps between the variety of the Intel models which need to be replaced and the narrow choice of M1 models. Apple needs a higher-end mini, an iMac with a larger display, and at least one proper Pro model among its MacBook Pro range. To those requirements we must add four Thunderbolt ports and support for more than one external display.

If Apple’s new models are going to meet its timetable for the transition, what we now see as marking time is quite the opposite for those making those new models. Once assembly lines are ready to complete them, Monterey should rush to Release Candidate, accompanied by the two security updates, just in time for the joint announcement of the new models and macOS updates at an Event. We should shortly know when that will be.