Tech

Apple's big Mac update is out now with a total redesign. Here's what's new

Key Points
  • MacOS Big Sur introduces a total design refresh, with new icons that are more like those on iPhones and iPads.
  • It has a new Messages app with group text support, Control Center for accessing Wi-Fi and Bluetooth settings, new widgets and more.
macOS Big Sur
Apple

Apple just released its macOS Big Sur update, following its "One More Thing" event on Tuesday. MacOS Big Sur, the latest operating system for Macs, brings a lot of new features to your computer, including a totally redesigned user interface that borrows a lot from what people are already familiar with on iPhones and iPads.

You can start downloading Big Sur as of Thursday afternoon. It'll work on most Macs in use today. It'll also ship with the new Macs that Apple announced earlier this week.

Here are some highlights that you can expect from macOS Big Sur.

MacOS Big Sur introduces a new design

MacOS Big Sur
Apple

MacOS Big Sur introduces a total design refresh, with new icons that are more like those on iPhones and iPads. The main menu bar and dock are translucent now, too, which gives it a more modern look and, again, brings it more in line with the interface on Apple's other products. The new design includes lots of the elements I'll talk about below.

Control Center

Control Center in macOS Big Sur
Apple

Apple is also bringing Control Center over from iPhones and iPads. This is a small menu that lets you easily access your Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, AirDrop and other settings.

Just tap the top right of the screen with your mouse and you'll see it. You can add other apps to Control Center, such as one that shows the battery life of your device.

Notifications and widgets

Widgets in macOS Big Sur.
Apple

MacOS has had widgets for years, but Apple is again adding a couple of features you may be used to on your iPhone or iPad. They can be grouped together and dismissed at once, for example. Notifications also appear with the most recent at the top, like on an iPhone. And widgets for stocks, weather, reminders, calendar and more have been redesigned.

I wish you could pin them to the desktop like on an iPhone, but they're tucked away into a small sidebar, hidden to the right of the screen by default, where the notification center lives. Apple will continue supporting third-party widgets, so you can add others from the apps you use most, too.

Messages

Messages in macOS Big Sur.
Apple

This is probably the feature I'm most excited about. Messages is also just like the app on iPhone and iPad now. You can group text messages together and pin them to the top of the page, for example, so that you can always easily access your group chats. It also lets you share your name and photo just like on iPhone, so everyone automatically has a picture for you in their chat. And you can get notifications if you're mentioned by name in a chat. Other features include Memoji stickers, image search and in-line replies.

Safari

Safari extensions in macOS Big Sur
Apple

Safari is also getting a total redesign. It offers improved performance so it feels faster. Apple says frequently visited websites will load 50% faster than Google Chrome.

One of my favorite features lets you preview an open website by hovering your mouse over an open tab. It shows you a small sample of the site that's open so you know what you're clicking into and if it's the tab you're looking for. Safari is also getting extensions in the App Store. These are the tiny apps that other browsers such as Chrome already offer that can let you do things on a website. Pocket is one widget I use in Chrome, for example, which lets me save stories to read later.

Safari has a bunch of other updates that are on iPhone and iPad, too, such as new privacy reports so you can see how websites use your information, alerts if your password may have been obtained in a security breach and more.

Maps

Apple Maps in macOS Big Sur.
Apple

MacOS Big Sur includes a big Maps refresh, too. It's, again, much more like Maps on iPhone and iPad, with cycling routes, a 3D "Look Around" feature that's like Google Street View, indoor maps and options to create certain guides before you visit a city. A guide, for example, can let you save a list of restaurants or sites to see when you travel, and that list is then synced right onto your iPhone or iPad. Maps also includes new routes for electric vehicles that show you charging stations after you've synced your car with your iPhone.

iPhone and iPad apps on Apple's new M1 Macs

Apple M1 showing games
Source: M1

One of the other new changes in macOS Big Sur is support for iPhone and iPad apps. But you need to own one of the new Macs Apple introduced earlier this week to run them. New models include the MacBook Air, MacBook Pro and Mac Mini with Apple's M1 chip, which replaces Intel chips in previous-generation Macs. It's this chip that allows you to run the iPhone and iPad apps, so you won't be able to if you have an older Mac. The M1 Macs will be released next week.

MacOS Big Sur supported devices

There are a lot of other features, such as updates to Siri for web search, new weather notifications, including if it will rain soon or if severe weather is expected, better search across your whole computer and added controls for your smart home.

MacOS Big Sur is supported by:

  • The 2015 MacBook and newer.
  • The 2013 MacBook Air and newer.
  • The late 2013 MacBook Pro and later.
  • The 2014 Mac Mini and later.
  • The 2014iMac and later.
  • The 2017 iMac Pro and later.
  • The 2013 Mac Pro and later.

How to download macOS Big Sur

You can download Big Sur by doing this:

  • Tap the Apple icon on the top left of your screen.
  • Click System Preferences.
  • Choose software update.

It's also available in the Mac App Store. Sometimes it takes a few minutes for it to appear for download.

VIDEO4:1504:15
Apple announces updated 13-inch MacBook Pro laptop using new M1 chips