Yes, Apple's really called its next Mac operation system Big Sur. No, it's not another name for the headmaster of your school (get it), it's named after a mountainous area in California. We're sorry Apple, but we just think it's a silly name. It's just embarrassing to call an operating system Big Sir (but maybe we are pronouncing it wrong?)
Anyway, there's a lot more to Big Sur than a silly name. This is definitely not a silly operating system so we will speak no more of this.
Although, there is one other thing to say about the name. It's not macOS 10.16 as you might have been expecting. It's macOS 11. Finally, after nearly 20 years, Apple has transitioned from Mac OS 10 (aka Mac OS X) to Mac OS 11. This is big!
Big Sur release date
- The developer beta of MacOS Big Sur is available now.
- The Public beta will arrive in July. (If you are wondering when the Public Beta will be out you aren't alone!)
- The final version of Mac OS 11 Big Sur will be with us in the autumn.
Apple will also be making a Public Beta version available. The macOS Big Sur Public Beta will arrive in July - iOS 14 public beta is already out so it is likely that the macOS Public Beta will arrive around 22 July. If you want to join Apple's Public Beta we explain what you need to do here.
Apple didn't say when the final version of macOS Big Sur would officially launch, other than it would arrive in the fall/autumn. Based on previous years, however, we expect Apple to release macOS Big Sur around 30 September - although it may well be pushed back into October like it was last year.
Over the past few years Apple has released the new macOS on the following dates:
- Catalina - 7 October 2019
- Mojave - 24 September 2018
- High Sierra - 25 September 2017
- Sierra - 20 September 2016
- El Capitan - 30 September 2015
- Yosemite - 16 October 16 2014
- Mavericks - 22 October 2013
These Macs will be able to run Big Sur:
- MacBook models from early 2015 or later
- MacBook Air models from 2013 or later
- MacBook Pro models from 2013 or later
- Mac mini models from 2014 or later
- iMac models from 2014 or later
- iMac Pro (all models)
- Mac Pro models from 2013 or later
There were more Macs supported by macOS Catalina. In 2019 the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro models from mid-2012, Mac mini from late 2012 and the 2012 iMac were also supported.
Read more about the Macs that can run Big Sur here.
What's new in macOS Big Sur?
As we explained above, Apple considerers Big Sur a big enough update that it has finally moved from macOS 10 to macOS 11. However, if you are expacting a completely new operating system then you will probably be disappointed. Sure Apple's given the icons and apps a bit of a makeover, but generally there isn't anything that is dramatically different... unless you look behind the scenes.
As we explain in our article about Apple's decision to ditch Intel and start using its own processors inside Macs - known as Apple Silcon - this version of macOS will be the first version that can run on the new Apple Silicon Macs (sometimes described as ARM Macs). As a result developers testing macOS can actually get a special Mac mini that uses an A12Z chip as found in the iPad Pro. One of the biggest impacts of this transition will be that you will be able to run iOS apps on future Macs that use these new Apple Silicon chips.
Find out more about the changes coming in Big Sur and how it compares to Catalina here: macOS Big Sur vs Catalina: Will it be worth the upgrade?
Design & Interfacte Changes coming in Big Sur
We couldn't help but think that Apple was saying that they were doing just fine without Jony Ive when they were describing the design changes coming to macOS Big Sur. Sir Jonathan Ive left Apple in November 2019 to start up his own design agency (to which Apple is a client).
Previously every design change, be it hardware or software, was overseen by Ive, but now he is out of the picture, so no doubt all eyes will be on these changes and just how much skeuomorphism there is or isn't (Ive took Skeuomorphism out of iOS 7 back in 2013 saying that there was no need to reference the physical world quite so literally).
It is, according to Apple: "The biggest design upgrade since the introduction of Mac OS X". That strikes us as a big claim, given the changes that came with OS X Yosemite in 2014, when the original Aqua interface took on a flatter, more modern look. We're sceptical that this is the biggest design change - perhaps Apple has a short memory.
Apple says that design elements will be familiar and similar to iOS, which was the overall message of the transition in 2014 - which was itself based on changes that had played out in iOS 7. In the WWDC presentation Apple showed off the icons representing the apps (as seen in the Dock), indicating that they have have been redesigned (where appropriate) to be more consistent with the icons seen on the other Apple products. But just in case you think that Apple will have changed your beloved icons too much, fear not, the company says they will retain their "Mac personality".
Regardless of how big a change it is, the new design is intended to make navigation easier and it brings with it many of the controls that iOS and iPadOS users will be familiar with including a new Control Centre, changes to Notification Centre, and changes to app interfaces, which we will look at in more detail next.
The changes don't stop with the icons in the dock, you'll also see full-height sidebars and changes to the toolbar in apps, which Apple says will give apps a cleaner look.
There will be a uniform shape for app icons and more consistency with their iOS and iPad counterparts.
Control Centre for Mac
This was actually one of our most desired changes for macOS. The Control Centre makes it super easy to control our iPhones and iPad and bringing similar functionality to the Mac will be welcome.
You'll be able to customise Control Centre - which will live in the menu bar - and take advantage of quick access to popular controls such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth settings, playing music, controlling Dark Mode and more.
Notification Centre is also getting some attention. It will bring more interactive notifications and redesigned widgets. You'll be able to see all your notifications and widgets together, with Notifications grouped by app and many interactive. So you could play a podcast episode straight from the Notification itself.
Widgets will be available in a choice of three sizes so you can pick the one that suits you.
New & Updated Apps In Big Sur
As usual, Apple is taking the operating system upgrade as an oppportunity to update some Mac apps.
In recent years Apple has been moving apps over to the Mac from iPadOS using Catalyst, its set of frameworks that makes transitioning apps easy. Thanks to Catalyst, in Catalina we gained Music, Podcasts and TV apps. This time Safari, Messages, and Maps are getting the Catalyst treatment. We'll run through each below.
It's not just the interface that's getting a big redesign. Apple says Safari is getting its biggest update since Safari launched in 2003.
That update's not just about the design. Safari is already fast, and according to Apple it's going to get even faster. The company claims that Safari loads frequently visited sites an average of 50 percent faster than Chrome.
There are a number of design changes coming to Safari, but perhaps one of the biggest changes will be the ability to customize your new start page. You'll be able to choose a background image (which could be your own photograph) and add sections like Reading List, Favourites, iCloud Tabs and Siri Suggestions so they can be easily accessed.
Tabs are also being redesigned, you'll be able to see more tabs onscreen and they will display favicons by default. But to make it easy to identify open tabs you'll be able to see a quick preview of a page by simply hovering over the tab. One of our Wishlist requests was that Pinned Tabs would get their own bar as ours take up so much room that we don't have enough space for tabs. This should be a more space-efficient design.
And built-in translation - Safari's ability to translate entire webpages into your own language (from seven languages) - will make navigating the web much easier if you frequently find yourself on webpages in other languages. We love that this will mean it's no longer necessary to pop over to Google Translate to find out what a page says. Apple say you will be able to click on the translate option to see it in your own language - and it will translate in real time even if text on the page is updated. There will also be a handy translation feature coming to Safari. Read about how to translate webpages here.
Extensions are also getting some attention in Big Sur and they will get their own section in the Mac App Store.
And, with privacy and security in mind, users will be able to choose when and which websites a Safari extension can work with.
Continuing the privacy theme you will be able to see a Privacy Report for each website you visit. You'll also see a new weekly Privacy Report on your start page that will show what Safari has been protecting you from while browsing.
One other privacy-first feature is a new data breach password monitoring feature that should mean your password information is never revealed - and if it is Apple will let you know and help you upgrade them.
Messages is one of the latest apps to be ported from iOS to the Mac thanks to Mac Catalyst, the tools Apple introduced back in 2019 to make it easier to bring iPad apps to the Mac. AS a result Messages finally gets the full set of iOS features - and all the new features that are coming in iOS 14 and iPadOS 14. Those new features include:
- The ability to Pin conversations that you want to keep at the top of the window (similar to how we can currently Pin Notes to the top of the screen)
- The ability to create an image to represent your group including icons for those involved
- A handy feature if you are in a group text - you will be able to send inline replies. So you can reply to a particular comment rather than adding your comment to the bottom of the pile.
- If you want to make sure that someone does't miss your message you can 'mention' them - simply type their name - and they will see an alert.
- You can also set it so you are only notified if you are mentioned.
- Other features from the iOS app will arrive including Memoji design tools (with the addition of 20 new hair and headwear - including Masks. And there will be three new Memoji stickers, including a fist bump.
There are lots more features coming to Messages, and of course the existing features like being able to add fun elements like balloons and confetti to texts.
Apple's Maps app is also getting the Catalyst treatment so it should be more iOS like when Big Sur launches.
This means that Maps on the Mac will gain the new Maps features coming in iOS 13 and iPadOS14, including the arrival of the new-style Maps to the UK, which includes features like a 360-degree view of a destination with Look Around.
Maps has a focus on "Helping you get there in a way that's better for the planet", so you can expect to see cycling directions, routing to help you get to somewhere to charge your electric vehicle.
We should also see guides - from trusted resources and also ones made by users. Apple says you will be able to create custom guides of favourite restaurants, parks, and vacation spots that can be shared with friends and family.
You'll also be able to browse detailed indoor maps of major airports and shopping centres.
Security & Privacy Features
We already mentioned some of the privacy features coming to the Mac in Safari, but as you would expect, there is more.
Apple says that it was inspired by the convenience and readability of food nutrition labels to create a new way of indicating what information is required by Mac App Store apps. For example, you'll be able to see if an app collects usage data, contact information, or location data and whether it shares it with third parties. This will help users understand the privacy practices of apps before downloading them, says Apple.