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Change is in the air. With macOS 11.0 Big Sur, Apple has used the Mac’s upcoming CPU architecture shift as an opportunity to redesign macOS from the ground up with a lively, refined interface and completely overhauled apps. Here’s a look at what’s new in Big Sur, which was released on November 12, 2020.

Enter 11: The End of macOS 10.x

Since the introduction of Mac OS X 10.0 in 2001, Apple has been using a numerical OS versioning system based on 10.x, with 16 major releases between versions 10.0 and 10.15. Even when Apple transitioned from “Mac OS X” to “macOS” in 2016, the 10.x numbering system persisted. With Big Sur, macOS is jumping straight ahead to version 11.0, which reflects Apple’s views about the significance of this release.

Some Macs that ran Catalina are being left behind and won’t be updated with Big Sur, so be sure to check whether your Mac can run Big Sur.

RELATED: Can My Mac Run macOS Big Sur?

macOS: A Refreshed Interface, Plus Control Center

In Big Sur, Apple has dramatically streamlined the overall feel of macOS, simplifying toolbars, buttons, and menus in all of its apps, including Finder. There’s a new translucent menu bar, a refreshed dock, and redesigned app icons.

In fact, all macOS app icons are now a uniform shape and size just like in iOS. Apple is also bringing over its suite of glyphs (i.e. a tiny pair of scissors for “cut” command) used in buttons and toolbars from iOS and iPadOS to unify them across all Apple platforms.

macOS 11 Big Sur Interface
Apple, Inc.

In Big Sur, the visual changes are pervasive, but sound effects have not been neglected. Apple says that macOS 11.0 will include both new and “remastered” interface sounds that will contribute to the release’s fresh feel.

Notably, Notification Center has received a large overhaul in Big Sur—notifications will now appear in a unified screen alongside widgets when you click on the time in the menu bar in the upper-right corner of the screen.

macOS 11.0 Big Sur Notification Center
Apple, Inc.

Also, Control Center is coming to Mac. As with iOS and iPadOS, you’ll be able to quickly call up a small menu containing shortcuts to frequently-used tasks, such as adjusting volume, enabling Bluetooth, or initiating AirPlay. You will also be able to drag the controls directly to the menu bar.

macOS 11.0 Big Sur Control Center
Apple, Inc.

In Big Sur, every native Apple app on the Mac will get an interface overhaul and performance upgrades. For example, Photos gets smoother scrolling thanks to using Apple’s Metal API. During the recent WWDC 2020 keynote, Apple called out improvements to specific apps in more detail, which we will go through below.

Safari: Faster, More Private

Safari is getting major upgrades in speed, privacy features, and extensions in macOS 11.0. During the WWDC 2020 keynote, Apple claimed that the new Safari will be about 50% faster than Google Chrome when loading frequently visited web pages. It will also include a new customizable start page that allows users to drag and drop wallpaper, and it will support for extensions made with the industry standard WebExtensions API. You can choose which websites the extensions have permissions to run on, too.

Apple Safari Start Page in macOS 11.0 Big Sur
Apple, Inc.

Safari also includes an overhauled tab system featuring icons in tabs, new tab management options, and the ability to hover over a tab to see a preview of the page.

On the Privacy front, a new Privacy Report button in the Safari toolbar gives you a custom scorecard of any website’s privacy aptitude.

Apple Safari Privacy Report in macOS 11.0 Big Sur
Apple, Inc.

Safari in Big Sur will also support built-in translation of websites between languages—which does away with the need to make a specific trip to sites like Google Translate when you want to read international web pages.

Messages: Memoji, Effects

macOS 11.0 Big Sur Messages
Apple, Inc.

In Big Sur, the Messages app will include a new search feature, a redesigned photo picker, and you can now create and use Memoji on the Mac. As with Messages on iOS and iPadOS, the Mac version will now support Effects (i.e. animated confetti, balloons). You can also pin conversations and manage groups better—both of which will match upcoming Messages features in iOS and iPadOS soon.


macOS 11.0 Big Sur Maps app
Apple, Inc.

Like Messages, Maps is getting a major overhaul in macOS 11.0 that will bring it to parity with upcoming features in iOS 14. It will now include a streamlined interface, favorite locations in the upper left corner, support for creating and viewing curated guides that point out notable sights, and indoor maps that can help you get around in places such as an airport.

Maps for Mac also includes Apple’s Look Around, a first-person photo-captured view of roads similar to Google Street View. And if a friend shares their ETA with you, you can see their location and progress on the map as they travel.

Mac Catalyst

macOS 11.0 Big Sur Catalyst
Apple, Inc.

Catalyst is a developer framework that assists with the translation of iPad apps into Mac apps. Important Catalyst improvements in Big Sur include the ability for apps to fully utilize the native resolution of a Mac’s screen, new menu and keyboard APIs, and updated in-app interface controls like checkboxes and date pickers.

Apple announced that Maps and Messages now use Catalyst (alongside other Mac apps that currently use it, such as Stocks, Voice Memos, and Podcasts). This way, Catalyst will continue to enable easy feature parity between Mac and iPad versions of an app.

Compatibility and Availability

macOS 11 will run on both Intel-based Macs and Macs based on new Apple chips when they arrive, with the first ones set to arrive by the end of the year. Apple has stated that it expects the transition from Intel CPUs to “Apple Silicon” to take about two years, so expect macOS 11 updates that run on Intel Macs for at least that long, if not for years into the future.

As for when you can get Big Sur on your Mac, Apple says it’s being released on November 12, 2020. Big Sur is a bold move for Apple that will bring new life to Apple’s now 20-year-old operating system architecture while further unifying all of Apple’s platforms.

Profile Photo for Benj Edwards Benj Edwards
Benj Edwards is a former Associate Editor for How-To Geek. Now, he is an AI and Machine Learning Reporter for Ars Technica. For over 15 years, he has written about technology and tech history for sites such as The Atlantic, Fast Company, PCMag, PCWorld, Macworld, Ars Technica, and Wired. In 2005, he created Vintage Computing and Gaming, a blog devoted to tech history. He also created The Culture of Tech podcast and regularly contributes to the Retronauts retrogaming podcast.
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