Six Colors
Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

Fun With Charts: The pace of macOS updates

Note: This story has not been updated since 2020.

My friend and former Macworld colleague Rob Griffiths keeps a record of macOS releases, which is exactly the kind of thing I’d expect from the guy who created Mac OS X Hints. Prodded by Stephen Hackett, who is apparently now the official Six Colors Chart Muse, I’ve decided to use Rob’s data to take a look at how often Apple updates macOS.

In terms of total updates released during the lifespan of a major version, Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger and macOS 10.13 High Sierra share the crown with 12. However, High Sierra was only the “current” version of macOS for 385 days, while Tiger reigned for nearly three years. That means that Tiger actually was the version of macOS with the longest time between updates, at an average of one update for every 88 days of release.

Of course, the vagaries of software release schedules and the appearance of urgent bug-fix releases can skew the numbers. But it is interesting to see that after several years at a pace of a system update every two months, the past three releases of macOS have seen updates on an average of one per month.

Not that the updates come out smoothly, on a monthly cadence. Since Apple shifted to a fall release schedule in 2013 with Mavericks, October has seen by far the most releases, with ten. But over two decades of development, the updates tend to be fairly evenly spread out—with a peak in September and October.

We know that macOS 10.15.4 is currently in beta testing, so Catalina seems to have at least one release left in it—though if Apple keeps up its current pace, we’ll see a half-dozen Catalina updates between now and the release of macOS 10.16. As for iOS releases? That’s another chart for another day.

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