MacOS Sonoma is a big disappointment - except for one excellent feature

macOS 14 Sonoma features
(Image credit: Future / Apple)

At WWDC 2023, Apple debuted a whole bunch of new hardware and software, from the new MacBook Air 15-inch with the M2 chip to the exciting but insanely pricey Vision Pro headset. As predicted, we also got a new version of macOS, dubbed ‘Sonoma’ - but the reveal felt like a bit of a letdown.

Sonoma, previously known as macOS 14, didn’t get a huge amount of airtime during the WWDC livestream. iOS 17 got a lot more attention - understandable, I suppose, given the worldwide popularity of the iPhone - but also more features, from more in-depth health tools to improvements to Messages and AirDrop.

The new version of Apple’s flagship computer OS, on the other hand, got a fairly trim list of new features, most of which aren’t exactly groundbreaking. Wow, widgets can fade into the background when you open a new window now? And Safari is getting profiles, a feature Chrome has had for years? Truly, we’re living in the world of tomorrow.

Maybe I’m just being a buzzkill here, but Sonoma didn’t really show anything that actually piqued my curiosity; at first glance, it felt like merely a superficial upgrade to macOS 13 Ventura. There was one thing that did make me sit up and pay attention, though, Game Mode.

Press play

Gaming on Mac has long been a thorn in Apple’s side. Despite long-running investments in its Apple Arcade service proclamations that ‘every MacBook is a gaming MacBook’, Apple has largely failed to convince the gaming public that its Mac hardware can truly be a great place to play games. 

But with the arrival of macOS Sonoma, that could be about to change. ‘Game Mode’ is a new feature in Sonoma that essentially toggles on a wide selection of integrated hardware boosts to give you the best possible in-game experience.

For starters, the game you’re playing is given full priority on the CPU and GPU, improving framerates and consistency by shelving other background processes. It also doubles the Bluetooth sampling rate to minimize latency with popular controllers like the Xbox and PS5 gamepads, as well as reducing audio latency for AirPods.

Could MacBooks be the gaming laptops of the future?

Combined with improvements to the Metal 3 developers toolkit in macOS Sonoma, it looks like Apple is getting serious about gaming on Mac. Sonoma will also bring with it a new Game Porting Toolkit for game creators, which will make it easier than ever for developers to port PC games to macOS.

I’ve said in the past that Macs aren’t the future of gaming, but taking into account the impressive performance gains of Apple’s new M-series chips over older Intel Mac devices, I might soon be eating my words.

The appearance of legendary game dev Hideo Kojima at WWDC, revealing that his blockbuster title Death Stranding will be coming to macOS this year, certainly shows that Apple isn’t messing about. A pre-WWDC launch of No Man’s Sky for Mac already had me speculating that Apple’s annual event would have something of a gaming focus, and I’m pleased to see I was right - even if it was overshadowed by that wretched AR headset.

With the powered-up M3 chip slated to launch in new Mac products next year, we really could see macOS devices - in particular, the lovely MacBook Air - become genuine platforms for serious PC gaming. Anyone who knows me well will probably be shocked to hear me say this, but I genuinely hope Apple can do it. I’d love to game on a MacBook!

Christian Guyton
Editor, Computing

Christian is TechRadar’s UK-based Computing Editor. He came to us from Maximum PC magazine, where he fell in love with computer hardware and building PCs. He was a regular fixture amongst our freelance review team before making the jump to TechRadar, and can usually be found drooling over the latest high-end graphics card or gaming laptop before looking at his bank account balance and crying.

Christian is a keen campaigner for LGBTQ+ rights and the owner of a charming rescue dog named Lucy, having adopted her after he beat cancer in 2021. She keeps him fit and healthy through a combination of face-licking and long walks, and only occasionally barks at him to demand treats when he’s trying to work from home.