macOS Big Sur, unveiled in June 2020 at WWDC, is the newest version of macOS, set to be released this fall. macOS Big Sur features an overhauled look, and it’s such a big update that Apple bumped the version number to 11. That’s right, macOS Big Sur is macOS 11.0.
A new design language makes the Mac interface even slicker—a tall feat—and more consistent with the iPhone and iPad interfaces. Notice, for example, that even the app icons now resemble the square iOS ones rather than the traditional circular macOS ones. The visual updates extend to built-in standby apps including Maps, Mail, Calendar, and Photos. The Safari web browser and Messages app get particular attention, with new features as well as a new look.
Even though Apple has pegged its future on Macs running its own CPUs, macOS Big Sur will still support a healthy list of older computers, including MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, and Mac Pro models dating back to 2013. The OS will launch in July, but developers can download a beta now. A public beta will become available in July, and the final release will occur next Fall.
Windows have a lighter appearance for a cleaner look with additional translucency and rounded edges, the Dock is more translucent, app icons have a new uniform shape, menu bars in apps have been redesigned to make them less obtrusive and better able to blend in with your content, system sounds have been entirely redone, and there are new symbols in toolbars, sidebars, and controls to provide clarity and consistency across apps.
Buttons and controls for apps now appear when needed and disappear when not in use to provide more focus on content, and the customizable menu bar offers access to a customizable Control Center that houses WiFi, Bluetooth, and AirDrop controls, keyboard brightness, Do Not Disturb, Dark Mode, sound level, and more.
Big Sur also updates the OS’s sounds. The Mac startup sound has been unmistakable for over a decade, but the new system sounds have been “remastered and refined,” says Alan Dye, Apple’s VP for Human Interface, while remaining recognizable.
The Notification Center has been redesigned with more interactive notifications grouped by app and iOS-style widgets that can be customized in three different sizes. An updated design for core apps provides better organization for multiple open windows and makes it easier to interact with apps.
Just like iOS and iPadOS, macOS Big Sur introduces widgets. In fact, the new macOS widgets are nearly indistinguishable from their iPadOS counterparts. On the Mac, the new widgets live in the Notification sidebar, and just as on the iPad, they can appear in various sizes. You can add clock, weather, Notes, and even third-party widgets.
The Finder now looks nearly identical to iPadOS’s Files app. While that’s a good thing for consistency among people moving between tablets and desktops, it seems that the window no longer offers tabs. We’ve contacted Apple to confirm or deny this. Aside from that, it’s a compact, good-looking design.
Apple’s syncing of Messages between iPhones and Macs has been a feather in the platform’s cap for years. With Big Sur’s new Messages implementation, your Mac has become something of a big iPhone: You can now create Memoji on the desktop. Pinned conversations keep important chats at the top between devices, and threaded responses make the app more useful. Finally, a new search box lets you find text within messages.
Big Safari Updates
Safari is faster and more battery efficient than ever in macOS Big Sur and features a new start page that can be customized with user-selected wallpapers and sections like Reading List and iCloud Tabs. The Mac App Store makes it easier to find extensions, and Apple added a feature that lets Chrome and Firefox extensions be easily ported to Safari.
For passwords saved in iCloud Keychain, Apple notifies users if there’s been a data breach with password monitoring, a protection feature that joins auto-generated strong passwords and other tools.
Apple redesigned the Maps app for macOS Big Sur, adding support for Look Around, indoor maps, and Guides, which are lists of notable attractions, restaurants, and more created by trusted sources. Maps for macOS can be used to generate cycling and electric vehicle trips that can be sent to iPhone, and shared ETA updates can now be viewed on the Mac.
The Photos app has expanded editing capabilities with a new Retouch tool powered by machine learning, and Apple Music has been overhauled with a new Listen Now section housing new releases, artist interviews, and personalized playlists.
In the Home app, HomeKit Secure Video cameras now feature support for Face Recognition and Activity Zones, AirPods have better than ever automatic device switching, and Siri can answer a much wider range of questions than before.
In the future, apps in the Mac App Store will help users better understand privacy practices and the information that a developer collects before choosing to download an app. Apple has likened this feature to a food nutrition label for apps in the Mac App Store.
macOS Big Sur introduces faster updates that begin in the background and finish more quickly to make it easier to keep your Mac up to date, and it includes a cryptographically signed system volume that protects against tampering.
Other new features include battery history usage for the past 10 days, Family Sharing support for apps with subscriptions, quick style editing and improved search in Notes, an option to assign reminders to people in the Reminders app, improved performance for Spotlight, and severe weather and minute-by-minute precipitation reports in Weather.
macOS Big Sur is available to developers at the current time, with Apple planning to make a public beta available to public beta testers next month. When it launches in the fall, macOS Big Sur will be a free update for all compatible Mac models.
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