Apple's M3 iMac and MacBook Pro have macOS Ventura installed and that tells us more than you might think

macOS 13 Ventura on 14-inch MacBook Pro
(Image credit: Bryan M. Wolfe / iMore)

When Apple announced the M3 24-inch iMac and M3 Pro/Max 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pros on October 31, 2023, the unveiling came more than a month after it made the macOS Sonoma software update available for download by anyone who wants it. That is, so long as you don't own one of those new machines.

As people who got their orders in nice and early have started to receive their new Macs we're beginning to hear more and more that they all appear to arrive with macOS Ventura preinstalled, not Sonoma. That in itself is interesting given the timelines in play, but that isn't even the strangest thing about these new Macs.

The strangest thing? Owners can't even update them to macOS Sonoma at home because Apple's servers don't think that they're compatible with it.

A Sonoma no-go

The news that the new M3 Macs all have macOS Ventura started to pop up this week as people started to take deliveries. And it's something that continues to take people by surprise as they unbox their new machines.

Now, as a lot of people across social media are rightly pointing out, most people who get a new Mac this week might not even notice that they're not running macOS Sonoma, nor will they care. But it's important to remember that these are people who ordered their new Macs almost immediately after they became available which suggests a level of knowledge that makes it entirely possible they will notice. What's more, they'll be missing out on new features like improved widgets and more while they wait for macOS Sonoma to be made available to them.

There is a workaround of sorts should you not be able to wait. Those who are registered on one of Apple's beta programs should be able to install the macOS 12.2 beta should they so wish, but that's a terrible situation to be in — we wouldn't suggest installing beta software on a mission-critical Mac for obvious reasons.

So what's going on?

Adobe Photoshop running on M3 Max MacBook Pro

(Image credit: Apple)

The only reason I can think of for these new Macs shipping with macOS Ventura preinstalled is that they were built and ready to ship before macOS Sonoma was completed. The iPhone 15 shipped with iOS 17 on day one, so there's no reason why these new Macs shouldn't have macOS Sonoma installed a month later. The fact that they can't install it makes things all the more strange.

The obvious question now is when did Apple originally intend to announce these new Macs? The September 26 macOS Sonoma release date means that it must have been before then. And we were seeing Sonoma release candidates arrive a week or so before that date, too.

Apple's M2 Pro and M2 Max MacBook Pros were unveiled in January 2023 — is it possible that there was a timeline that saw these new models announced closer to June, perhaps? Possibly, although the M1 Pro models arrived in October 2021, so the final quarter of the year is a favorite for those particular Macs. And Apple surely would never have planned updated MacBook Pros so soon after the last ones anyway, making June seem unlikely.

The M3 iMac is an awkward one because its release is so overdue that it could have arrived at almost any point this year, assuming TSMC had the silicon ready to go — which by all accounts, it didn't.

The result? It seems likely that Apple has been stockpiling these new Macs since before the end of September but likely not by much. We've reached out to Apple to ask what's going on and when people will likely be able to easily update to macOS Sonoma on their new Macs. Hopefully, it's sooner rather than later.

Oliver Haslam

Oliver Haslam has written about Apple and the wider technology business for more than a decade with bylines on How-To Geek, PC Mag, iDownloadBlog, and many more. He has also been published in print for Macworld, including cover stories. At iMore, Oliver is involved in daily news coverage and, not being short of opinions, has been known to 'explain' those thoughts in more detail, too. Having grown up using PCs and spending far too much money on graphics card and flashy RAM, Oliver switched to the Mac with a G5 iMac and hasn't looked back. Since then he's seen the growth of the smartphone world, backed by iPhone, and new product categories come and go. Current expertise includes iOS, macOS, streaming services, and pretty much anything that has a battery or plugs into a wall. Oliver also covers mobile gaming for iMore, with Apple Arcade a particular focus. He's been gaming since the Atari 2600 days and still struggles to comprehend the fact he can play console quality titles on his pocket computer.