A new macOS that welcomes the arrival of Apple Silicon and offers better integration with mobile platforms, along with fresh visuals and a host of other features
Big Sur represents a major redesign of Apple’s macOS, appropriately marked by the first major version number change in 20 years; yes, we’re finally on macOS 11.0.
This update coincides with the release of Apple’s very first in-house ARM-based SoC for Macs, and we can see why. Big Sur was designed with these new chips in mind, and it provides further integration with iOS and iPadOS.
While changes are made with each major macOS release, Big Sur stands out. Apple uses a whole new color palette for 11.0, and they’ve added full-height sidebars, refreshed toolbars, and rounded-square icon designs that bring some consistency to macOS and across Apple’s ecosystem.
One can’t help but notice that the new icons look very similar to the ones on iOS and iPadOS, and that’s obviously intended. Along with native support for iOS and iPadOS apps on Apple Silicon-powered Macs, it’s clear that the company is looking to bridge the gap between these systems and get closer to a unified platform.
New Control Center and Notification Center
The similarities to Apple’s mobile OSes continue. You will now have access to a handy set of controls for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, AirDrop, music controls, etc. — all from a Control Center that looks almost identical to the ones on iOS and iPadOS.
The renewed Notification Center is a similar story. It now combines notifications and widgets, just like on the mobile platforms, and it looks very similar as well. You can now access it by just clicking the date in the menu bar.
Support for Apple Silicon Macs
The timing of the M1 announcement wasn’t an accident, as these chips will only run on the new macOS. While the capabilities of Apple Silicon have yet to be put to the test, it certainly looks like Intel’s CPUs have been holding Apple back in multiple regards.
Naturally, all built-in Mac apps will support these new processors, with developers expected to roll out universal binaries that support both architectures. Many have already done so, and Rosetta 2 will allow users to run apps that haven’t yet been ported.
Run iOS and iPadOS apps natively on macOS
For many people, this will be the most exciting feature of the new OS. You will now be able to run any mobile app on Big Sur natively, provided your device is powered by one of Apple’s ARM-based chips. For now, that includes the 2020 M1 MacBook Air and Pro, and the M1 Mac Mini.
Again, this change signals Apple’s desire to unify its app platforms. However, while the company intends to make all iOS and iPadOS apps available for Mac users, developers are allowed to opt out if they wish. Among those not offering their mobile apps for Macs: Google, Facebook, and Amazon.
Major Safari update
Big Sur introduces some significant changes to the default browser, including a customizable start page, improved tab design, and instant page translations between several common languages.
Safari has always been one of the better choices for privacy-minded users, and the browser now goes one step further by providing a one-click privacy report detailing all cross-site trackers that are being blocked. It can also generate a weekly privacy report on the start page.
Other app updates
Messages has been completely rewritten using the Catalyst framework, allowing it to have the same features as the mobile app. Also, you can now pin conversations, mention people, search for messages, and more.
The App Store comes with a few major improvements. Every app’s privacy practices will be listed in a dedicated section (though this feature may not be available until later this year), a new category is available for Safari extensions, and third-party Notification Center widgets will be found on the store as well.
Maps is also getting some cool new features, Photos is being enhanced with new editing capabilities, and the Listen Now tab in the Music app will make it easier to find new content.
Big Sur brings big changes to Apple’s macOS
This macOS update is the most innovative one we’ve seen in many years, which is no surprise given that it is released at the same time as Apple’s new processor and three of the devices it’s going to power.
There are a lot of interesting features to be excited by, but iPhone and iPad users will probably be happiest with the blend of Apple’s desktop and mobile platforms, especially those who will also go out and buy an M1-powered device.