The next major update for macOS is here, and Big Sur brings with it a bunch of new features as well as a significant revamp on the visual side. These are 11 of the most significant upgrades that enable you to do more with your Mac, once you’ve downloaded and installed the 2020 update.
1. A fresh face for Music
Open up the Music app in macOS Big Sur and you’ll notice there’s a new Listen Now option in the navigation pane. This is your new home for everything audio, featuring recommendations for Apple Music, music you’ve recently played, playlist mixes, and more.
It’s kind of like the old For You tab, but with a few subtle changes: more variety in the picks you get offered first and better integration for podcasts, for example. Apple says that search has been improved, too, so results should show up on screen faster than before.
2. Open the new Control Centre
macOS Big Sur looks significantly different from macOS Catalina. It’s a cleaner, more modern look across the board, with sidebars stretching to the full height of windows, a subtle use of colour accents, and icons that are more detailed and three-dimensional.
Check out the new iOS-style Control Centre, for example: Click the toggle switch icon on the menu bar, and you’ve got easy access to wifi, Bluetooth, and AirDrop connection settings, as well as shortcuts for display brightness, volume control, and media playback.
3. Customise the Notification Centre
The Notification Centre gets a visual overhaul as well — alerts from the same app now get grouped together, while widgets become more customisable and resizable, too (though you may have to wait a while for non-Apple apps to support the new features).
Open the Notification Centre by clicking on the time and date in the top right corner (the dedicated icon has gone), then click Edit Widgets to add and remove widgets. To change a widget size and the information displayed, right-click on a widget and choose Edit Widget.
4. Customise the Safari start page
As part of what Apple calls “the biggest Safari update ever” in macOS Big Sur, you can do much more in terms of personalising the start page that appears when the browser launches or when a new tab opens. Click the sliders icon (lower right) to get started.
You’re able to pick out a background image for the start page — either something suggested by Safari or a picture of your own — and choose which elements are shown on screen, from your Favourites list to the new Safari Privacy Report to iCloud Tabs open on other devices.
5. Check what’s tracking you around the web
Speaking of the Safari Privacy Report, it’s the latest initiative to cut down on the number of trackers that follow you around the web — or at least make you more aware of them. To see what’s been blocked over the last 30 days, click Privacy Report on the Safari menu.
You’ll get a detailed report of how many trackers have been blocked on each site, and the names of the individual trackers themselves. To see a report just for an individual site, open it and then click the new shield icon just to the left of the address bar in Safari.
6. Search your Mac more quickly
The system-wide Spotlight search tool has been given an upgrade in macOS Big Sur. You’ll notice the interface has been streamlined, and there are some under-the-hood improvements as well, so your results should show up faster as soon as you start typing.
Support for Quick Look has been added to Spotlight — enabling you to view and even edit certain files without opening up the relevant app — and the same Spotlight engine has been added to more of Apple’s native apps, too, including Safari, Pages, and Keynote.
7. Do more with Messages
The Messages app gets a major upgrade to bring it up to speed with the features available in Messages on the iPhone and iPad. You can pin conversations to the top of the list, add inline replies to individual messages, and mention people by name in a group chat.
There are more message effects to pick from and more memoji stylings available, and image and GIF discovery has been improved too. All of these changes match iOS and iPadOS, so pinned messages will sync across multiple Apple devices, for example.
8. Dig into recent battery usage
If you like to keep a close eye on battery health and history, then you’re going to like what macOS Big Sur has in store: Click the battery icon in the menu bar, then Battery Preferences to see usage (and screen time) over the last 24 hours or the last 10 days.
Big Sur is also smart when it comes to charging, learning how you charge your MacBook to figure out when it’s going to be plugged in for an extended period of time and adjusting the charging rate accordingly. This should reduce battery wear and improve its lifespan.
9. Check up on apps before you install them
One of the changes coming to macOS Big Sur later this year — so you might not have it yet — is the introduction of simplified privacy policies for Mac apps. Apple says they’re designed to work like nutrition labels on food packaging: simple and informative.
These new privacy labels should make it easier to see at a glance what an app wants to do and why. Apple Arcade is more prominent in macOS Big Sur, too, with the introduction of game pages and a more seamless way of continuing a game from another Apple device.
10. Apply more edits in Photos
Photos might be primarily focused on still images, but the desktop app also gets some extra video-editing features with the arrival of Big Sur. This isn’t going to replace iMovie or Adobe Premiere Pro, but you can at least apply some fixes to your captured footage.
You can tweak colours and white balance, reduce noise, crop your videos and apply a variety of filters, too. Extra editing options have also been added for your photos, including an improved retouch tool and new intensity adjustments for photo filters.
11. Look around in Apple Maps
Apple Maps is another app to get a big overhaul with the arrival of macOS Big Sur. One of the features added to the desktop version is Look Around (Apple’s version of Street View) in selected cities. Indoor maps can also now be accessed through Apple Maps in macOS.
Cycling directions and electric vehicle charging information along routes have been added to match the iOS 14 release, and Apple has also introduced what it’s calling Guides, which are curated collections of travel advice about certain spots from content partners (and the ability to create your own, if you want to).