Apple macOS Big SurSource: Apple

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The latest version of macOS has arrived and, perhaps surprisingly, it's a big one. MacOS 11 Big Sur includes a lot of exciting new and updated features starting with its refreshed look. The update was announced alongside iOS 14, iPadOS 14, tvOS 14, and watchOS 7.

Here's a look at what's coming to your Mac later this year.

What's new with macOS 11 Big Sur?

Apple has refreshed the design for macOS significantly both as an operating system and with the streamlined apps. Mail and Photos look at lot like iOS/iPadOS now and Notification Center includes a single view for the first time. Widgets, which were also announced for iOS 14, are also coming to macOS.

Apple macOS Big Sur Source: Apple

Design changes

Called the "biggest design upgrade since the introduction of Mac OS X," Big Sur has easier navigation and more controls for users. From the curvature of window corners to the palette of colors and materials, everything here has been refined.

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  • Icons in the Dock have been designed to be more consistent with icons across the Apple ecosystem.
  • Buttons and controls now appear when needed and recede when they aren't necessary.
  • A customizable menu bar includes an all-new Control Center that delivers quick access to controls from the desktop. From here, for example, you can find Wi-Fi and Bluetooth controls, and ones to play music and enable Dark Mode. You can also add your favorites.
  • An updated Notification Center includes a new design and features both alerts and widgets in a single view. Notifications are now grouped by app with many also interactive.

Notable App changes

Apple macOS Big SurSource: Apple

Safari: The native web browser includes a significant update in macOS Big Sur. New features include a privacy report for every site visited and password monitoring. With the former, Safari now uses tracking prevention to identify and prevent would be trackers from profiling or following you across the web. The latter matches known security breaches and shows you had to change your affected passwords.

Extensions has also been refreshed and you can now decide which sites are allowed to access these extensions and for how long. Extensions now have a more prominent place in the Mac App Store.

You'll also find a custom Home page feature in Safari that includes the ability to add shortcuts, your Reading List, and more. Built-in language translation has also been added. Apple also promises an improved tab design.

Finally, Apple says the next version of Safari is 50 percent faster than Chrome in terms of loading times and more power efficient.

Messages on the Mac: After Safari, Messages is the native app that got the most updates. Most of the new features come from iOS/iPad, but not all.

With pin conversations, you can put your favorite conversations at the top of the screen. You'll also find tapbacks, typing indicators, and recent messages animations above the pins.

Meanwhile, with inline replies you can now reply directly to certain messages in any conversation. In doing so, a new thread under the original reply automatically gets started.

Messages also now includes group photos, trending images and GIFs, effects, highlighted mentions in group chats, and finally ... Memoji.

Finally, the app offers a new take on search. It's faster and easier to use and now organizes your results into links and photos and highlights matching terms.

Apple Maps: On Mac, you'll find a new version and design. It offers all-new guides from trusted resources and the ability to create your own. These guides can include your favorite restaurants, parks, and vacation spots. Apple Maps for Mac also now includes detailed indoor maps of major airports and shopping centers. Cycling and electric vehicle trips can now be routed on a Mac, and sent directly to iPhone to have when on the go.

Mac App Store offers new privacy tools in macOS Big Sur. For each available app, you'll find a summary of its developer's privacy practices before you download it. Similar to nutritional labels, you'll learn what data each app collects and whether that data gets used to track you across other apps and websites.

Other changes

The macOS Big Sur update includes other useful new features. Like the others, these will also be discussed in the coming weeks at iMore. These include:

  • AirPod device switching means your tunes will carry with you across all your active Apple devices so you're always using the one closest to you.
  • The Photos app has new editing tools, including an improved Retouch tool powered by machine learning.
  • Listen Now is the new home for Apple Music, featuring new releases, artist interviews, and playlists personalized for you — all in one place.
  • Cameras that support HomeKit Secure Video can now use facial recognition and activity zones, allowing you to tailor notifications to specific people or specific areas in your camera's view.
  • A smarter Siri also awaits you in macOS Big Sur as the voice assistant adds more web knowledge.

You can find the full list of macOS Big Sur features on the Apple website.

When can I download the next official version of macOS?

The developer beta of macOS Big Sur is available to Apple Developer Program members at starting today, and a public beta will be available to Mac users next month at macOS Big Sur will be available this fall as a free software update.

My Mac is old, can I upgrade to macOS Big Sur?

The latest Mac operating system will run on the following devices:

  • MacBook (2015 or newer)
  • MacBook Air (2013 or newer)
  • MacBook Pro (Late 2013 or newer)
  • Mac mini (2014 or newer)
  • iMac (2014 or newer)
  • iMac Pro (2017 or newer)
  • Mac Pro (2013 or newer)

Why Big Sur?

Over the years, Apple has done a great job of not leaking the name of the next version of macOS prior to the announcement. It's track record of keeping quiet continued with the launch of macOS X.

Since 2013, Apple has named operating system updates for Mac after locations in California. Prior to macOS X, we had Mavericks, Yosemite, El Capitan, Sierra, High Sierra, Mojave, and Catalina. This year it's Big Sur, a rugged and mountainous section of the Central Coast of California between Carmel Highlands and San Simeon.

Lots to see

Which macOS Big Sur features are you most excited about seeing?

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