The next Mac operation system will be called Big Sur and it could be ready to launch very soon as we explain below.

If you are wondering about the name: Big Sur is a mountainous area in California. (We think its a silly name, but we aren't Californian). 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 macOS 10 (aka Mac OS X) to macOS 11. This is big!

We've had a look at what's coming in Big Sur - here's our verdict: macOS Big Sur: should you update your Mac?

Big Sur release date

Despite Apple announcing a release date for iOS 14 during the 15 September event, and subsequently releasing it on 16 September, Apple has so far failed to announce a date by which it would make the final version of Big Sur ready to download.

We had expected Apple to reveal the download date for macOS Big Sur at the 13 October event, but despite the company hosting a special event at which it unveiled the iPhone 12 and HomePod mini, no mention was made of a date for the release of Big Sur.

So when will Big Sur launch? Can we predict the timing of the Big Sur release based on the length of the macOS development project? 

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

In 2020 the first beta arrived after the WWDC event on 22 June, while in 2019 the first beta of macOS Catalina arrived on 3 June. That's a difference of around three weeks. So can we forecast that Big Sur will arrive three weeks after the 7 October? That would bring us to the week of 26 October.

Another reason to suppose the final version of Big Sur will arrive soon: there were 11 beta versions of macOS Catalina (including the gold master). So the next version could be the gold master.

So, theoretically it is possible that Big Sur could arrive before the end of October. But it is looking increasingly unlikely. What seems more likely is that we will see the final 'gold master' version around 28 October, with the launch happening at the beginning of November.

So, to summarise: we could see the final beta of Big Sur around 28 October, and the final release of Big Sur to Mac users on 4 November.

Big Sur wallpaper for iPhone

Big Sur latest beta

Big Sur is currently in Beta. There is a developer beta and a public beta. If you would like to join the Beta program read about how to do that here: How to join Apple's beta programme and try out new software we also have advice on installing the Big Sur beta here.

macOS 11 was announced at WWDC 2020 on 22 June. A developer beta arrived that same day.

The Public Beta version became available on 6 August - slightly later than the July launch Apple had promised.

  • The latest version of the developer beta of MacOS Big Sur is version 10. It was realeased on 14 October, two weeks after version 9.
  • Updates to the Public Beta tend to follow a few days after the developer version updates. The latest Public Beta verison is public beta 6, which arrived on 16 October.

Beta 10 includes a new icon to show when AirPods are the audio source for your Mac.

Beta 9 contained a number of bug fixes.

Beta 8 seemed to focused on changes below the surface. It fixed a bug in the seventh beta that was causing apps to crash.

Beta 7 changed a few things in Settings. The release notes indicated that Spotlight's problem with searching for programs had been resolved. According to Apple, there were also some new features and bug fixes in the developer tools SwiftUI, DriverKit and Xcode.

There was also a change to the settings for the clock in the menu bar - it can no longer be found in the Date & Time system setting, but in the Dock & menu bar system setting.

The public beta version of Big Sur, as of 30 September, is also macOS Big Sur public beta 9.

Compatibility

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.

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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 expecting 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.

Since the arrival of the beta we have learned of a change coming that will affect Dark Mode. There will be a new setting to turn off the behaviour where windows let colour from the background shine through. This should mean Dark Mode isn't brightened by the other apps you are running.

Apps

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.

BIG SUR APPS

Dock

There will be a uniform shape for app icons and more consistency with their iOS and iPad counterparts.

BIG SUR DOCK

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.

Here's what you need to know about using Control Centre on the Mac.

BIG SUR CONTROL CENTRE

Notification Center

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. Read more about how to use widgets on the Mac here

BIG SUR NOTIFICATION CENTRE

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.

Safari

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.

BIG SUR SAFARI PREVIEW

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

Big Sur will also bring 4K YouTube to the Mac - as long as you use Safari. Previously, Apple didn't support vp9, the video codec Google uses for 4K video - but it appears to have had a change of mind.

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.

BIG SUR SAFARI

Messages

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.

Maps

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.

BIS SUR MAPS

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.

BIG SUR PRIVACY