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The Real System Requirements for Apple’s 2021 Operating Systems

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).

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Comments About The Real System Requirements for Apple’s 2021 Operating Systems

Notable Replies

  1. Rats! I’ll now have to replace my late 2014 27" Retina iMac. Not even 7 years old and not upgradable. I think I’ll wait to see if an Apple silicon replacement is announced in the Fall as I’d prefer something larger than the new 24".

  2. Damn. iPad Air 2 is almost 7 years old and still receiving updates.

  3. The operating system my “old” devices have gotten stuck on has more and more become unusable because it became a dog, or dog slow (despite extra RAM), with other problems. I believe Apple will do inferior “upgrades” of Safari on non-late-model devices before final abandonment so it becomes worse than its age.

  4. I think it’s interesting how our expectations of how long a computer will last have changed dramatically since the early-2010s. When I got my 2013 MacBook Air, I had been replacing my computer more-or-less every 3-4 years since my first one in the 1990s. I assumed in ~2016-2017 I would replace the MBA.

    Yet here I am today still using it as my only computer, almost eight years later. Granted, it has felt like time to upgrade for the past 6 months, but I’m holding out for the next set of Apple silicon MacBooks. And it is more or less holding up in the meantime.

  5. Of all the sys reqs, this one alone confuses me:

    • AR Object Capture: Macs with at least 16 GB of RAM and 4 GB of VRAM

    I’m assuming this works perfectly fine on M1. I’ve a 16 GB M1 MacBook Air, but who knows how much VRAM it’s got! Completely dynamic, I suppose?

  6. Yes, VRAM is shared with RAM on the M1, so it should work fine on your M1 with 16 GB of RAM. However, AR Object Capture is a niche (albeit welcome) feature for AR developers, so most people don’t have to worry about this.

  7. <snark>

    Other features with specific system requirements include:

    • 5G enhanced connectivity: iPhone 12 models, iPad Pro 12.9-inch (5th generation), and iPad Pro 11-inch (3rd generation)

    What? 5G enhanced connectivity requires a brand new phone? What about iPhone 11 which is just a year old? It’s not getting 5G enhanced connectivity simply because it doesn’t have a 5G radio?

    It’s Apple purposefully forcing us to buy new hardware to get new features!

    </snark>

  8. I mean really, it’s all just software radio, isn’t it? :wink:

  9. Exactly how old is your “old” device? Apple is officially supporting the latest OS on the iPhone 6S which came out six years ago, and Macs built seven years ago. People who have a 2 year old Pixel phone from Google itself aren’t getting new OS updates.

  10. I just retired my iPhone 6S and it was working good except for the growing battery drain even though the battery had a very high rating because I replaced it. I disconnected it from almost everything that could run in the background - and then even more when I got a newer phone. The battery drain continued.

    My iPad Air was a disaster with the last upgrade (as were earlier iPads although for those the hardware was slow anyway) and Safari was left years behind even while Apple updated the OS.

    My over a decade old iMac hasn’t been usable for almost a decade. Even with max RAM it was slow as molasses after 5 years. I used it anyway for a long time - but not Safari. Safari was the first browser that became an abomination - back then even the 3rd party browsers that got dumped before Safari all worked better than Safari. I essentially went without a respectable Mac for a decade.

  11. Ah, the time has finally come. My MBP late 2013 retina won’t be able to upgrade to the next MacOS. I was planning on upgrading anyway, but would like to wait and check out the M2 MacBook Pros that will probably come out later this year.

  12. Seriously, what marketing people call “5G” is really a grab-bag of advanced features defined by the 3GPP standards body. Some of them are compatible with 4G/LTE radios and could theoretically be supported by a firmware update for the radio chip. Other features will almost certainly not be compatible with 4G radios.

    Whether or not such a firmware update will actually be delivered is a bigger question. My guess is “probably not”. While Qualcomm and Intel might release updated firmware, it would be a significant cost to Apple in order to deploy it (mostly testing and maybe also re-certification with the FCC), so I wouldn’t expect them to do it for older phones that are (or will soon be) discontinued.

  13. In the fourth beta of macOS Monterey, Apple has brought live text in photos to Intel Macs.

  14. I am constantly amazed by his dedication to doing the tedious work to test, document, and explain all the little details and low-level behaviours that are so vital for supporting Macs. His site is an invaluable reference.

  15. The one thing I want to know is if the new multitasking method will be doable with an IPad Air 2 (Mines an early iPad Air 2 circa Oct 2014),

  16. I’m using a MacBook that’s so old I can’t remember exactly when I got it…sometime around the early 2020s Although the salesman in the Apple store tried to talk me out of it, my husband talked me into paying extra for it. The salesman was correct; it distorts color. I never had a problem with the coating pealing off, like some other models. I did have to have the hard drive replaced when it was still under Apple Care. Except for the colors being a little off, it’s still my Mac weapon of choice. I’m now deciding about one of the new M models.

  17. I don’t have an iPad Air 2 myself, but it is listed as a supported iPadOS 15 model, and according to the user guide, the new multitasking method split view and slideover gestures are not limited to specific models - all iPads that run iPadOS 15 will have access to these new multitasking features. However, one thing that you won’t be able to do is split view and slide over at the same time. For the iPad Air, that is limited to the iPad Air 3 and Air 4.

    So, you can have two split view windows open at the same time, or you can have a full-screen app with another app in slide over, but you can’t do a split view and then add or access a slide over app.

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