The Rocket Yard recently featured an article in which I described some of the issues I ran into while installing Developer Beta 1 of macOS 11 Big Sur. When I was unsuccessful in installing the beta onto an external hard drive, I decided to use a MacBook Air I had on hand to run the beta software. In today’s article, I’ll describe some of the new features of Big Sur.
The public beta is now open, so if you have an “extra Mac” that you would like to test Big Sur on, join the Apple Beta Software program and you can start right away. If not, now might be the time to pick one up. OWC has unbeatable deals on new and refurbished Macs – all with free shipping and backed by OWC’s world-class US-based support team!
1. New App Layout
One of the more significant changes to macOS 11 is the look of the default Apple apps. There are sidebars that run the full height of the window (even in full-screen view) and toolbars that are more graphically consistent and “cleaner” than they are in earlier versions of macOS. Below are some side-by-side comparisons of the Photos and Calendars apps from macOS 10.15 Catalina and macOS 11 Big Sur.
2. New Menubar Layout
The Big Sur Mac menubar has more spacing between each item. For example, here’s the Finder’s File menu on both Big Sur and Catalina:
One developer I talked to speculated that this could be in preparation for a touchscreen Mac or Mac/iPad Pro hybrid in the future, as the extra spacing makes touch selection of menu items a lot easier.
The Dock has always been a feature of macOS that made it stand out from other operating systems. It has been redesigned in Big Sur; while retaining the opacity of the Dock that existed in Catalina, all of the Apple app icons are now a consistent shape — a rounded rectangle.
This doesn’t apply to third-party apps; one app I’m using has a circular icon that really seems out of place. In Catalina, some of the Dock icons were circular, some were rectangular, others featured a small facsimile of the app’s feature (i.e., Calendar, Contacts) set at a slight angle from the vertical.
4. Control Center
The new Control Center for Mac has already become one of my favorite features of Big Sur. With a click on Control Center menu button on the menubar of the Mac screen, the Control Center appears:
Controls for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, AirDrop, Do Not Disturb, Keyboard Brightness, AirPlay, Display Settings (including brightness, Dark Mode, Night Shift, and True Tone), Sound Volume and choice of speaker, and controls for music playback are all just a few clicks away.
5. Notification Center
Notification Center is entirely different. Rather than just displaying a laundry list of notifications that have come in like it did in pre-Big Sur days, Notification Center now acts more like the iOS / iPadOS Today View. Similar notifications from a single app are now grouped, the weather app features forecasts from Apple’s Dark Sky, and the widgets can be resized depending on your preference.
I’m hopeful that many third-party developers decide to add Notification Center widgets to their apps.
Apple’s browser has a new look and features in Big Sur. It starts with the Start Page, which can be customized with a background image and your choice of content. For example, the following screenshot of a Start Page shows a backdrop photo (Colorado National Monument), an updated privacy report showing how many trackers Safari has protected me from, and tabs that are currently open in Safari on my MacBook Pro.
As you can see, the lower right corner of the screenshot, other Start Page items can be selected from a settings button in the corner of the Safari Start Page screen.
One of the other cool features? Hover your cursor over a tab in Safari and you’ll see a preview of what the web page looks like:
The Safari translation feature is rather impressive. When Safari recognizes that a web page is in a different language than the one your Mac defaults to, a translation button appears in the address/search bar. With a click, the page can be translated to English or one of six other languages):
Finally, Safari extensions are getting their own category on the App Store. There don’t appear to be an overwhelming number of extensions at this time, but perhaps developers will find ways to add functionality to Safari and make some money at the same time.
As Big Sur gets closer to release in September or October, we’ll take a look at some of the more subtle nuances of this redesign of macOS as well as any last-minute changes, additions, or deletions made by Apple.