MacOS Big Sur is major revamp of the Mac operating system. Most notably, it is the first time in years that its visual appearance has been radically altered.
But it is not all about aesthetics — Big Sur rethinks almost every one of Apple’s own apps, as well as its operating system features like Spotlight and Siri, and its overall performance.
Even though it’s still in public beta, there’s a lot to dig through.
The most obvious change Big Sur has brought to MacOS is its visual redesign. Almost every element of the user interface has been polished up and tweaked, bringing a lighter, more spacious feel to the Mac.
For instance, Apple apps now feature full-height sidebars, increased spacing between menu items, and new toolbar buttons that blend more seamlessly with the app’s background. But the changes do not affect only apps — the menu bar is now translucent, the dock has rounded corners, and dock icons for Apple apps all use the same rounded-square style, giving more visual uniformity. The overall effect is of a smoother, cleaner operating system that looks and feels great to use.
Full list of changes: Design
MacOS Big Sur has made it a lot easier to access commonly used system settings. Instead of digging through System Preferences, a lot of settings are now housed in the Control Center. This is one of the most helpful changes in Big Sur, as it puts common controls at your fingertips. Not only that, but you can customize it to add or remove settings, and even drag settings onto the menu bar for even quicker access.
The Notification Center has also been revamped. Mac notifications from the same app are now grouped together to save space, and alerts are more interactive, making it easier to act on your notifications. The widget system from iOS 14 has come to Big Sur as well, and you can choose between several sizes of widgets to display in the Notification Center.
Full list of changes: Control Center and Notification Center
Of all Apple’s Mac apps, Safari has received perhaps the biggest renovation in Big Sur. There are security improvements, such as the introduction of the Privacy Report, which shows you how many trackers each website attempts to use (and blocks them). Safari will also tell you if one of your passwords has been leaked in a data breach and will suggest a strong replacement.
Elsewhere, Safari’s Start Page can now be customized to your liking, and tabs display more information (such as page previews when you hover over them). An on-page translation feature has been added, and performance has been tuned to give a speedier experience that uses less of your battery.
Full list of changes: Safari
The Messages app on the Mac has long been overshadowed by its iOS sibling. MacOS Big Sur corrects a lot of these disparities: You can now create Memoji and Memoji stickers on the Mac just like on iOS, pin conversations, and add inline replies and threads, all of which are already on iOS. When you search the Messages app, your results are sorted into categories, also like on iOS.
Group messages have had some tweaks, too. You can choose an image to use as an icon for the group or use a combination of the participants’ profile pictures (this option also indicates who last wrote in the group). Big Sur also makes it easier to share your name and photo with others, as well as add GIFs and message effects such as balloons and confetti to your conversations.
Full list of changes: Messages
Unlike Safari and Messages, Apple Maps has undergone more of a gradual shift in MacOS Big Sur, but there are still plenty of notable new features. For instance, Big Sur sees the introduction of guides. These are curated collections of nearby places — such as the best hiking trails in your area — from popular websites and publications. You can make your own guides and share them with friends, too.
Maps has added Look Around (Apple’s version of Google Street View) in Big Sur, and introduces routing for bicycles and electric cars, plus more detailed interior maps for airports and shopping centers. There is also more detailed information for navigating congestion zones such as those in London and Paris.
Full list of changes: Maps
One of the things that makes Big Sur such a large update is the sheer number of apps that have been refreshed. Many of these apps have only received small upgrades, but those upgrades add up.
Apple’s Mac Catalyst apps have had a lot of changes. Music and Podcasts now feature a new Listen Now screen to surface content you might be interested in, Notes has more text styles and a collapsible Pinned section, and Reminders comes with smarter suggestions and organization tools.
Apple Arcade, Apple’s gaming subscription service, also sees a noticeable overhaul to improve the user experience. It is now more easier to see what your friends are playing and find new games, and you can prepurchase games and download them as soon as they are released.
Apple has also upgraded a whole heap of its other apps and services, from the Home app and Photos to FaceTime and Weather. See below for the complete rundown.
Full list of changes: Other Apple apps
That is not all. Apple has made improvements under the hood as well. Alongside Safari’s privacy features, Apple is doubling down on App Store privacy. Apps now have to self-report what trackers they install and what user information they harvest. This information is then displayed prominently on an app’s page on the App Store, giving you a clearer idea of whether the app is a good privacy citizen.
Big Sur is also kinder to your Mac battery life, with an Optimized Battery Charging feature that learns when you need power and helps to reduce battery wear. You will also be able to see your battery usage history.
Elsewhere, Spotlight is streamlined and more performant, works with Quick Look previews, and is integrated into the Find menu in various apps. The Siri virtual assistant now makes greater use of the internet to help you answer a broader set of questions.
Full list of changes: Everything else coming to Big Sur