At WWDC 2020, Apple announced an exciting new Mac update due to release later in the year. The new update, macOS Big Sur, introduces an all-new design alongside a wealth of other features.
Big Sur marks the monumental evolution from macOS 10 (which we’ve been enjoying since 2001) to macOS 11. Apple probably made this change to signify the shift to ARM chips instead of Intel. But there are enough new features to warrant the update anyway.
Let’s get into them below.
The most noticeable change to macOS Big Sur is its complete redesign. Apple has worked to reduce complexity by introducing unified symbols, rounded corners, and clearer visual hierarchies.
Every icon on the Dock now fits into a rounded square, matching the aesthetics of iOS. But since the Mac features a larger screen, these icons include rich shading effects and 3D textures, distinguishing them against their mobile counterparts.
As you open a window, you might notice the full-length sidebar with its new translucent effect. Or perhaps you’ll be taken by the minimized toolbar that uses cleaner icons with more negative space between them than before.
Finally, Apple remastered and perfected the sound library for macOS. These sounds and alerts—everything from receiving a message to powering on your Mac—are familiar and recognizable, yet they feature improvements to make them easier to distinguish from one another.
The Control Center on your iPhone offers a quick way to access frequently used settings without needing to leave your current app or even unlock your device. With macOS Big Sur, Apple introduces a similar Control Center to the Mac.
Click the Control Center icon in the top-right corner to get instant access to:
- and more
Use Control Center to control your music from the playback section, enable Do Not Disturb mode, or control your AirPlay Display.
You can even add custom icons to Control Center, like Accessibility. After doing so, drag and drop them from Control Center to your menu bar to make them even easier to access.
The Notification Center in macOS Big Sur is getting a big upgrade as Apple makes it group similar notifications together and adds new widget support.
Click the date or time in Big Sur’s simplified menu bar to open the Notification Center. Your notifications are grouped by app, allowing you to find what’s important quicker than ever before on a Mac.
After finding what you need, certain notifications feature new interactive elements, which means you don’t need to open a separate app anymore. For instance, accept a calendar invite or start listening to a podcast by clicking on the notification. All without needing to leave the Notification Center.
Just as Apple is improving widgets as one of the new iOS 14 features, you can now add them to your Notification Center in macOS Big Sur. Mac widgets come in three sizes, including square and rectangular shapes, and let you see information on your favorite apps directly from the Notification Center.
Alongside major design changes, Apple also introduced a big update to Safari in macOS Big Sur. We’ve already written in detail about all the new features coming to Safari.
But as an overview, you can expect:
- A customizable new start page
- Improved tab management
- New privacy and tracking features
- Website translation
- and more
Safari isn’t the only Mac app getting an overhaul. Apple has also added a lot of new features to the Messages app, to match the improvements coming to iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 as well.
The first of these new features allows you to pin multiple conversations at the top of Messages, keeping them within easy reach no matter who texted you most recently. Pinned messages appear as a large circular picture, with icons to show you if someone’s currently typing.
Big Sur even offers Tapback buttons that let you send instant replies!
You can pin group conversations as well, which are gaining the ability to have custom photos. And within the group itself, you can respond to particular messages to create inline message threads, making it easier to follow a busy conversation.
Big Sur also introduces Memoji to macOS, letting you edit and send Memoji stickers. And you can now search for trending images and GIFs to share.
All of these new features work to bring the Messages app far more in line with its iPhone counterpart.
Maps sees a fairly big upgrade with macOS Big Sur, as Apple brings its feature-set more in line with iOS and iPadOS.
Thanks to the new Maps sidebar, you can now view, edit, and add favorite locations on the Mac. These favorites sync to your other devices over iCloud, allowing you to plan an itinerary for your trip on your Mac, then follow those directions on another device.
Alongside the sidebar, Maps in macOS Big Sur also gains cycle routes, EV routes, and Guides. Find out about all the new Maps features in our full write up.
App Store privacy
Apple has repeatedly placed a strong emphasis on privacy with recent software updates. That’s no different with macOS Big Sur, which adds transparent privacy practices to the Mac App Store.
Before downloading an app, you can now take a look at how it plans to collect and use your data. Apple categorizes data usage into three sections:
- Data used to track you
- Data linked to you
- Data not linked to you
With simple icons, Apple shows how your financial, location, contact, purchase, browsing, usage, and diagnostics data fit into each of these categories.
That way, you can check how an app plans to use your data before installing it.
More new features in macOS Big Sur
We’ve covered all the major new features coming to macOS Big Sur above, but there are countless smaller changes to get excited about as well. These include:
- Improved editing capabilities in Photos
- Automatic Device Switching with AirPods
- HomeKit facial recognition
- Improved Siri knowledge
- Faster software updates
- Listen Now section in Apple Music and Podcasts
- Time remaining under the battery charge in the menu bar
- Progress bar added to Finder for iOS updates and syncing
- Optimized battery charging available in the System Preferences
- Game Center recommendations for games your friends are playing
- Mac startup noise comes back
If you take part in Apple’s Beta Software Program, let us know what other new features you spot while using macOS Big Sur.
Will my Mac support macOS Big Sur?
Unfortunately, not every Mac will support the upgrade to macOS Big Sur. Even if you’re currently running macOS Catalina, you may need to change to a newer Mac if you want to enjoy Big Sur when it comes out this fall.
Take a look at our breakdown of every Mac that supports macOS Big Sur to find out if you can get the update.
He spent two years supervising repairs as a Genius Admin for Apple Retail and uses that knowledge to keep our troubleshooting guides up to date.
Long before that, Dan turned to Apple products from a musical background. Having owned iPods for years, he bought a MacBook to learn sound recording and production. It was using those skills that he gained a first-class Bachelor of Science in Sound Technology.