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Messages in macOS Big Sur: What’s New?

Messages is one of the more useful apps on any Apple device. It allows Mac, iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch users to communicate with text, emoji, photos, videos, and sound clips. Apple made some changes to Messages with the release of macOS 11 Big Sur, so let’s see what’s new.

Pinned Conversations in Messages

Let’s start with my favorite new feature: pinned conversations. In all past versions of Messages for Mac, those conversations that were updated most recently would be listed at the top. While that’s useful, what if you always want a specific discussion at the top for easy access?

Pinned conversations makes this possible! In the image below, I wanted to make sure that I can always have my good friend and fellow Rocket Yard author Dennis Sellers at the top of my conversations. With a right-click on the existing conversation, a contextual menu appears. The top item? Pin.

Right-click a conversation to display a contextual menu, then select Pin
Right-click a conversation to display a contextual menu, then select Pin

Selecting Pin places a large “button” with the recipient’s image at the top of the conversations list. No matter what comes in from other friends or businesses, Dennis is always at the top of my list (see below).

Pinned recipients appear at the top of the list of conversations in Messages.

If you select several conversations to be pinned, they all appear in icons at the top of your conversation list (see below).

More than one pinned Messages conversation? No problem!
More than one pinned Messages conversation? No problem!

To “unpin” conversations, simply drag the icon down to the conversation list and drop it. You can also right-click an icon and select Unpin from the pop-up menu.

Messages Group Names and Images

With individuals, it’s simple to change an image by opening their Contact card and changing their photo. In Messages in macOS Big Sur, you can actually name groups and select an image for that group conversation.

Let’s say I have created a family conversation with my wife and sister. To give this group conversation a custom name and image, I right-click on it, then select Details. There I see a button link titled “Change Group Name and Photo”. Clicking this, I enter “Family” into the text field for the Group Name, and change the image to an emoji of two women wrestling (see image below).

Changing the group name and image in macOS Big Sur Messages
Changing the group name and image in macOS Big Sur Messages

As you can see, I can select a photo for the group image (left button at the bottom), an emoji (center button), or change the image to text (FA for example). The color background of the emoji or text images can be changed.

Inline Replies

Inline replies in macOS Big Sur Messages. Image via Apple
Inline replies in macOS Big Sur Messages. Image via Apple

While group conversations in Messages can be fun and even useful, things could get a little out of hand in the previous versions of the app. Someone could ask me a question, and before I could answer it, another question or comment would come in from another person in the group.

Now it’s possible to make inline replies. Think of these as new conversation threads that tie to a specific question or comment in a conversation. In the image at right (via Apple), the recipient has decided to reply to the question “Has anybody screened the new edit? Any thoughts?”.

To begin, you reply directly to that message by control-clicking or two-finger clicking on it, or by selecting a specific message and pressing Command (⌘)-R. In this example, there have been seven replies to the one message. A label shows the number of replies, and they’re listed below, connected by a gray line.

This is a great way to organize a long string of messages. Any responses that are not made specifically to the question show up outside of the inline replies. That, in turn, makes group conversations less confusing, since inline replies are specific replies to one message.

Memoji Stickers and Other Delights

One of the more fun features of the macOS Big Sur Messages app is the ability to use Memoji Stickers to respond to someone. Clicking the Apps (“A”) button to the left of the Text Message brings up available sources of images. In the image below, those include Photos, Memoji Stickers, #Images (GIF images), and Image Effects.

Responding with Photos, Memoji Stickers, GIFs or Message Effects
Responding with Photos, Memoji Stickers, GIFs or Message Effects
Memoji Stickers make their debut in macOS Big Sur
Memoji Stickers make their debut in macOS Big Sur

Selecting Photos displays a photos picker. There’s a search field at the top of the picker, allowing you to search for photos by location or person name. Of course, you can also just scroll through the photos to pick one.

Memoji Stickers have been around for a while on iPhone and iPad, but finally, make their debut on macOS. If you’ve created a Memoji of yourself, then those stickers are available to choose from. These stickers even work when you send a message to someone on an older version of macOS or another platform.

I find the Memoji Stickers to be a lot of fun, and they add a personal touch to your replies. For example, if I want to quickly express my agreement or displeasure with something in a conversation, it’s a lot easier to send a “thumbs-up” or “thumbs-down” Memoji to get my point across.

#Images are animated GIF images that you can choose from to embed in a reply. I probably love sending GIFs more than I should, but there are some hysterically funny ones!

Finally, Message Effects finally made it to macOS Big Sur. Ever wanted to send someone a bouquet of animated helium balloons or fireworks? These effects have been on iPad and iPhone for a while, but now you can send them from your Mac.

Message Effects, finally in macOS

Message Effects are really impressive when you’re on the receiving end of a message that uses them!


To make Messages a bit more like social media, Apple has added Mentions. When I am chatting with more than one person and want to get an individual’s attention, just typing their name will change its color. That person then receives a notification letting them know they were mentioned. Even if the person has used Hide Alerts so they aren’t getting annoyed, they’ll still get the message. That is, if they’ve gone to Messages > Preferences > General and enabled “Notify Me When My Name Is Mentioned”.

People can also be notified by using the @ symbol before their name. For example, by typing @Barb and pressing the space bar or return key, that person is notified.

These changes to Messages in macOS Big Sur add some fun and useful functions. Many were available in iOS and iPadOS for the past few years, and finally, macOS is up to speed.

Steve Sande
the authorSteve Sande
Contributing Author
Steve has been writing about Apple products since 1986, starting on a bulletin board system, creating the first of his many Apple-related websites in 1994, joining the staff of The Unofficial Apple Weblog in 2008, and founding Apple World Today in 2015. He’s semi-retired, loves to camp and take photos, and is an FAA-licensed drone pilot.
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