The Best macOS Big Sur Features for Macs

BY Dilum Senevirathne

Published 23 Jun 2020

macOS Big Sur embraces a whole new design perspective that gels the Mac together with iOS 14 and iPadOS 14. While not everyone will appreciate the change in aesthetics (I for one love it), the latest upgrade to macOS also comes with a slew of Safari-related features, improved search capabilities, and lots of improvements to native Mac apps. And with Apple set to transition from Intel-based chips to Apple’s own in-house silicon, macOS Big Sur looks set to be an exciting update.

Compatibility-wise, you should be able to run macOS Big Sur on MacBooks, Mac Minis, or iMacs released over the past five to six years — here’s a complete list of supported Macs. That said, let’s go through some of the best macOS Big Sur features that you should keep an eye out for.

macOS Big Sur: The Best Features

1. Refined User Interface

Right from the get-go, macOS Big Sur will grab your attention with its refined user interface. It’s probably the biggest visual overhaul since Yosemite, but on a whole new level. The dock strikingly resembles that of the iPhone and iPad, with updated icons that look more consistent in terms of design. The menu bar is also more translucent and merges well with the desktop background. Furthermore, application windows look rounded, cleaner, and uncluttered. Things look drastically different and could take some getting used to, but let’s admit — the macOS UI looked dated, and Big Sur delivers on that front.

2. New Control Center

The new macOS Big Sur Control Center should quickly feel familiar to anyone who has used an iPhone or iPad. It pops up on the upper-right corner of the screen and provides quick access to connectivity, brightness, and playback controls. It evens lets you dig into elements à la Haptic Touch-style and reveal more options — for example, clicking and holding the Brightness slider will reveal the Dark Mode and True Tone controls. You can also drag elements out of the control center and stick them in the menu bar for faster access.

3. Updated Notification Center

macOS Big Sur also comes with a revamped Notification Center with grouped notifications and re-sizable widgets, which puts it more in line with iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 (notice the recurrent theme here?). Widgets support three different sizes (small, medium, and large), allowing you to customize them in a way to display varying levels of information.

4. Redesigned Native Apps

As part of macOS Big Sur’s visual overhaul, apps not only look beautiful with prominently rounded curves, but Apple has also redesigned the various user elements for a streamlined user experience. Apps now feature full-height sidebars and spacious toolbars that make working with apps a breeze. Subtle animations, such as the expanding Search bar in Mail, also make interactions a treat.

5. Improved Safari

If you used a third-party web browser on your Mac, then it’s time to seriously reconsider switching back to Safari. With macOS Big Sur, Apple’s native browser comes with an improved user interface, where you can quickly customize the start page with background images, remove unwanted features (such as the Frequently Visited list), and so on. It also sports the ability to preview tabs, which is just ideal when you’ve got lots of stuff going on within a single Safari window.

That aside, Safari also provides a significant performance bump, with Apple claiming the browser to be over 50 percent faster than Google Chrome. And it also does that with improved power efficiency, where you should get at an additional hour’s worth of browsing time on your MacBook compared to the competition.

6. Extensions Support

Safari 13 dropped a bombshell when it stopped supporting legacy extensions and ended up with a woefully inadequate ‘supported’ extensions library. But with macOS Big Sur, developers gain access to the WebExtensions API that should let them quickly export extensions designed for other web browsers to Safari.

That should allow for a larger library of extensions in Safari. To stop extensions from compromising your privacy, Safari also provides you with total control over how they work within the browser — for example, you get can quickly specify an extension to only run on the web page that you are currently viewing.

7. Built-in Privacy Protection

Forget installing content blockers in Safari. The browser now comes with its own Intelligent Tracking Prevention module that will block privacy-invasive trackers from gaining a bead on your browsing activity. You can also view a list of trackers that attempted to load on any page by clicking the Privacy Report button next to the address bar. Another significant privacy-related feature is Safari’s ability to notify you of compromised login credentials in the event of a data breach.

8. Improved Messages App

macOS Big Sur also features the updated Messages app from iOS 14 and iPadOS 14. You can now pin conversations to the top of the window, perform inline replies in group conversations, and use @mentions to direct messages and receive notifications from specific people. The Messages app also comes with revamped search capabilities, where results will quickly bring up links, photos, and highlighted matching terms that should let you locate whatever you are looking for quickly.

9. Improved Apple Maps App

macOS Big Sur comes with a redesigned Maps app that takes advantage of the bigger display on Macs. It lets you plan cycling and EV routes with pinpoint precision, allows you to find places to shop and explore, comes with ‘Guides’ from trusted sources, and more. The revamped Maps app on the Mac also receives features that have been around iOS and iPadOS for a while, such as Look Around and Share ETA.

10. Privacy-oriented App Store

The Mac App Store now shows privacy-related information about the apps that you want to download. Just scroll down to the App Privacy section of any page, and you can quickly see the types of data used to track you (financial and location info, for example), as well as data that could be used to link to you. Developers self-report this information, so there’s no guarantee as to what they would actually do with your data. However, it’s still a serious step in the right direction.

11. Improved Photos App

The Photos app not only takes advantage of the streamlined approach to native apps in macOS Big Sur, but it also comes with better animations. For example, zooming in and out feels natural and immersive. It even comes with an expanded arsenal of photo and video editing capabilities, an improved automatic retouching tool, and support for image captions.

12. Faster macOS Updates

Hated the fact that your Mac took hours to update itself? You are not alone — system software updates often take a ridiculous amount of time to complete even on the fastest Macs. But you don’t have to worry about that once you’ve got macOS Big Sur installed. Incremental software updates will then run in the background and finish significantly faster than before.

macOS Big Sur – Love it or Hate it?

Whether you are waiting for the public beta in early July or just killing time till the stable release this fall, macOS Big Sur sure has plenty of additions to make things interesting. So what are your favorite features? Drop in a comment below and let us know.