aPple just released Big Sur as a free update, marking the biggest macOS redesign in years. The platform for every Mac computer is now equal parts traditional desktop computers and features many of the visibility of the iPad and iPhone will be used.
Big Sur marks the end of an era for Mac software in more ways than one. For years, Apple has been slowly mixing the design and operation of its desktop and mobile software, bringing features from iPhone or iPad to Mac and vice versa. With Big Sur comes an important step towards the goal of merging the two.
This will be the first macOS to be added to traditional Intel Macs that have been in use since 2004 and Apple Silicon Macs are brand new Launched this week – it runs on the company’s ARM-based M1 processors similar to the A14 chip used in iPhones and iPads.
Bold colors, greater transparency, and iPhone-like icons
Big Sur is more like an iPad than ever. The semi-transparent menu bar, dock, and interface mimic everything that’s present on iPadOS. Even the software icons, which are now squares (half square, semicircle), look like the ones on the iPhone but with a bit more depth and detail in their designs. Some will hate the new icons, but I think most people will get used to it from the iPhone.
The Mac also inherits the on / off toggle switches directly from the iPhone, which work exactly the same way, while the interface’s default color scheme is now colorful, whether in light or dark mode. The apps also look cleaner with more heavy icon toolbars and full-height sidebars, which look like the ones on iPadOS 14.
It’s new and more colorful than previous versions of macOS, and leaves the door open for iOS apps to work alongside Mac apps on the new Apple Silicon Macs and to appear as part of the system rather than just random additions. But most Big Sur runs the same as previous versions, with the same features in the same places as before, keeping a familiar feel to anyone who has used macOS before. This isn’t a drastic change ready for the iPad to take over just a Mac.
Pulled from the iPhone and iPad, Control Center is a bunch of settings and toggles to quickly change common things, like volume, screen brightness, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, etc. Most of the settings can be expanded to reveal more options, such as switching to dark mode and night shift.
It’s a handy addition that integrates lots of quick controls into one place, but for those who like these controls to live in the menu bar, they still can.
The media center has also been refurbished. It contains iOS-like cards for notifications as they come in. It can be grouped or expanded and also introduces new unified user interface elements launched with iOS 14. It replaces the traditional macOS tools, and while most of them work the same way, some are more interactive and the ones like Calculator have been removed.
Messages and maps
The Messages app has finally been rolled out on the Mac to be on par with the mobile and iPad version. Apple’s iMessage system users now get all the new effects, memoji, pinned messages, and new group messaging features including WhatsApp-like @ -signs and replies built-in like Slack, plus easier gif messages.
Apple Maps has also been aligned with the iPad version making it even more unique for route planning, store finding and enhanced 3D view for remote street exploration.
Safari has also been overhauled. It looks a little different here and there, as now favicon icons appear on the tabs by default, making it easier to see the open site, and new popup previews appear when you move the pointer over a tab. There are plenty of new options for customizing the start page as well, with features like Bookmarks, Reading List, Siri suggestions, iCloud tabs that sync tabs between devices, and a new Privacy Report.
But the two biggest changes are the addition of Chrome-style extensions and the aforementioned Privacy Report, which shows all the trackers on any given website and the number of people monitoring your movements around the web over the past 30 days. The report is definitely a shining tool and another tool in the privacy armory.
The extensions are few and far between, as they were placed in the Mac App Store, but for those who have stuck with Chrome due to a particular extension, there might be less reason to use it now. You can also choose when to run an extension, whether it’s all the time or only on certain websites, for greater privacy protection.
Finally, Apple’s new translation service is part of Safari, which supports seven languages and works similarly to Google’s translation features in Chrome.
Overall, macOS 11 Big Sur manages to blend the iPhone and iPad’s visual design with Mac functionality very well, making an excellent starting point for both the new Apple Silicon-based Macs and older Intel Macs alike.
The performance on the Intel 13in MacBook Pro starting in 2020 is compatible with previous versions of macOS, which is encouraging, but the real test will be how it performs on the new Apple Silicon Macs, especially compared to traditional Intel hardware.
Big Sur might look different on the first boot, and some might hate the brighter colors and greater use of transparency and gradient icons, but it basically works like previous versions of macOS, but with a few helpful plugins you can safely ignore if you don’t want them.
MacOS Big Sur will work on MacBook Pros and Airs from 2013 onwards, iMacs and Mac minis from 2014 onwards, iMac Pro from 2017 onwards, and Mac Pro from 2013 onwards.
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