It’s been a big day for Apple so far, with the announcements of iOS 14, iPadOS 14, watchOS 7, and tvOS 14. But for MacBook users, the exciting part of the day is just beginning. Apple has unveiled the next version of macOS: Big Sur.
The biggest change is the new look. Big Sur brings the biggest redesign since the introduction of macOS 10, according to Apple. The new operating system borrows a number of elements from Apple’s iOS, including a customizable Control Center, where you can toggle brightness, Do Not Disturb, and other settings of your choice; and a new notification center, which keeps all of your notifications and widgets (also redesigned, and available in the App Store) in one column, sorts alerts by most recent, and groups related notifications together. Both interfaces are translucent, like their iOS counterparts.
Apple has made some other tweaks as well. The menu bar is now taller and more translucent, the interface’s font color changes based on the color of your desktop background, and pull-down menus are larger with more space between lines. You can pin the items you use the most to the top of the menu bar. Windows are also more translucent, with more rounded edges.
A number of apps have received streamlined new designs, including Mail, Photos, Notes, and iWork. Apple has introduced a new search feature to Messages (which organizes results into links, photos, and matching terms), as well as inline replies, customizable icons, and @-sign mentions for group chats, a new photo-selection interface, and other message effects including Memoji stickers. You’ll be able to pin up to nine chats to the top of your conversation list, which syncs across Messages in iOS and iPadOS as well.
There’s a new version of Maps for Mac that borrows features from the iOS app, including custom Guides, 360-degree location views, bicycle and electric-vehicle directions (which you can send directly to an iPhone), live updates for shared ETAs, congestion zones, and indoor maps. New detailed maps are coming to more countries — including Canada, Ireland, and the UK — later this year.
Apple introduced a number of new Catalyst apps as well, which will also receive the new look.
Dock buttons have also been redesigned to look more similar to their iOS counterparts, in an effort to “be more consistent with icons across Apple’s ecosystem while retaining their Mac personality,” according to the company. The dock itself has been lifted from the bottom of the display, and (like the menu bar) it’s more translucent than before.
“The entire experience feels more focused, fresh, and familiar, reducing visual complexity and bringing users’ content front and center,” Apple says.
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The new macOS also introduces the biggest update to Safari since the browser was first introduced. The company claims its browser loads popular websites 50 percent faster than Chrome and is easier on battery. Hovering over a tab now gives users a preview of its page, and right-clicking on the tab will give you the option to close all the tabs to its right. The new Safari also has a customizable start page (you can set the background image and select what’s displayed) and a built-in automatic translation feature that can interpret entire webpages in seven languages, Apple says.
Safari is also getting support for extensions made for other browsers, and a dedicated extension store within the App Store. (Unlike many other browsers, Safari will allow you to customize which sites your extensions run on, and when). You can now easily import history, bookmarks, and passwords from Chrome as well.
And there are new privacy features, including a Privacy Report that lists cross-site trackers the browser has blocked over the last 30 days, and a password-monitoring tool through which Safari helps you upgrade to secure passwords if it detects that any of your saved passwords have been involved in a data breach.
Speaking of privacy, apps in Big Sur’s app store will now include the types of data those apps might collect, and whether those data are shared with third parties for tracking. Apple likened the practice to food nutrition labels.
On the developer side, Apple has upgraded SwiftUI to make it easier to create apps that are versatile throughout its ecosystem, and to add custom Mac features.
The update comes just over a year after Apple announced macOS Catalina, which brought iPad app support, the Sidecar feature that allows you to use your iPad as an extended Mac display, and a number of redesigned apps including Apple Music, Podcasts, Apple TV, and Find My (which combined Find My Friends and Find My iPhone). The new update continues to bring the macOS experience closer to that of iPhones and iPads, and to refine the app experience.
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