Apple’s WWDC 2021 starts in less than 24 hours, which means we’re going to get our first official look at the successor to Big Sur: macOS 12.
A new version of macOS is a big deal because Apple’s Mac business appears to be moving from strength to strength this year, delivering critically acclaimed revisions of its popular laptops and desktops packing the company’s powerful new M1 chips.
High sales of M1-powered MacBooks have generated record revenues for Apple, and if you’ve kept tabs on our ongoing Mac coverage (like our MacBook Pro with M1 review and our MacBook Air with M1 review) you know that macOS 11 Big Sur plays more than a bit part in their current popularity. Launched last November, Big Sur brought significant improvements to macOS, including deeper integration with iOS, new Safari features, and support for Apple silicon like the M1 chip.
But now we’re about halfway through 2021, and there’s a new version of macOS coming shortly. Recent leaks suggest it will be branded macOS 12, but so far few details have surfaced about what this new macOS will look like or how it will operate. Here’s what we know so far in advance of a macOS 12 preview at WWDC 2021.
macOS 12 release date and betas
We still don’t have an official release date for macOS 12, though we’ll likely get a better picture during this week’s Worldwide Developers Conference. The WWDC keynote will likely include a macOS 12 preview, and a developer beta will come out during the conference. Here’s where you can watch the WWDC 2021 keynote.
We expect Apple to follow its usual pattern: announce a big new macOS update at WWDC in the summer, follow it up with a series of betas, then ship the final product in the fall.
If the Mac maker cleaves to the same strategy this year, expect to see the full release of macOS 12 sometime between September and November of 2021. If you’re a developer or a dedicated fan, you’ll almost certainly have the option of downloading a beta version before then: last year the Big Sur developer beta was made available in June, and the first public beta followed in August.
macOS 12 compatibility
Apple has never made macOS compatible with anything but its own desktops and laptops, and there’s no reason to think that will change this year.
However, what has changed is that Apple’s computers are increasingly shipping with Apple silicon instead of Intel chips, and it’s likely that change will be reflected in a new version of macOS.
We expect that the 2021 edition of macOS will be compatible with all M1-based Macs and most Intel-based Macs as well, though it’s reasonable to think you’ll see Macs more than 6-7 years old missing from the macOS 12 compatibility list. Big Sur is currently compatible with some Mac models dating back as far as 2013, for example.
It’s possible we may also see some confirmation that the 2021 edition of macOS will be compatible with the next generation of Apple Silicon, currently rumored to be the M2 chip. Little is yet known about the successor to Apple’s remarkable M1 chip, but it seems likely to make an appearance in the rumored 16-inch MacBook Pro refresh that’s expected to debut in the latter half of the year.
macOS 12 features we expect (or hope) to see
Better security: Apple will likely roll out a slew of new features with a new version of macOS, but security is one of the key areas where we’re eager to see improvement. While Macs have long held a reputation for being comparatively malware-free, recent patches to fix zero-day vulnerabilities in Big Sur show macOS could use some significant security upgrades.
In fact, one of Apple’s own execs recently testified in court (during the Apple v. Epic Games imbroglio) that Macs have ‘unacceptable’ levels of malware. The exec in question, Apple software boss Craig Federighi, admitted that current macOS security standards can’t match those of iOS, where the company has tried to build a more secure environment.
Since the M1 chip has already allowed modern Macs to more deeply integrate with iOS (by, among other things, natively running iOS apps) we hope to see macOS 12 fleshed out with some improved security features.
Deeper iOS integration: Speaking of iOS, Apple is almost certainly going integrate it more deeply with macOS 12. The launch of iOS 15 is expected to bring with it new features for controlling notifications, as well as a better privacy menu, and it’s likely we’ll see any such improvements mirrored in a new version of macOS.
Deeper iOS integration could also make Macs more competitive feature-wise; it would be nice to see macOS 12 debut with the ability to unlock your Mac with an iPhone or other iOS device, for example.
You can already unlock your iMac with your Apple Watch, and Chrome OS has allowed users to unlock their Chromebooks with an Android phone for ages, so a similar feature for macOS would be a significant usability upgrade.
Design tweaks: Finally, it’s likely that the next version of macOS will include a host of design changes and tweaks aimed at bringing what Apple sees as the best of iOS design to the Mac.
We saw this last year with Big Sur’s adoption of the iOS widgets and Control Center — plus the addition of iMessages’ (in)famous GIF search engine to the macOS Messages app — and macOS 12 will probably continue the trend. We may also see a new feature or design aimed at improving upon the functionality of the controversial Touch Bar, which has received mixed reviews since its 2016 debut and been suspiciously absent from the most recent M1-powered MacBooks.