MacOS Big Sur: The 4 best new features

At a blockbuster WWDC 2020 keynote, Apple announced MacOS Big Sur, the latest version of its Mac operating system. It signifies a major overhaul to the overall experience, moving the platform out of Version 10 after nearly 20 years.

It’s arriving in fall 2020, but Mac owners can install Big Sur early through Apple’s public beta program. If you’re indeed eager for the update right now, expect a few hiccups until Apple launches the final stable version later this year. Follow our guide on how to install the beta.

Whether you wait for the official full release or grab the beta right now, here are the best new features in MacOS Big Sur.

An all-new design

MacOS Big Sur New Design
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MacOS already looked pretty, but MacOS Big Sur ups the ante.

According to Apple, it’s the biggest visual update in years, touching every element of the operating system in small ways. Icons, windows, fonts, toolbars, and more have been spruced up, giving them a more modern look while keeping them in touch with their heritage.

The menu bar supports gradients that shift in colors to better blend in with the wallpaper. Meanwhile, the dock’s curvy figure is more iPad-like, bringing the two platforms closer together visually. The result is a subtle update, but one that looks utterly gorgeous.

It is not all about looks, though.

MacOS Big Sur Updated Finder
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Apple redesigned many features to make them easier to use. For example, many apps have condensed toolbars so they are no longer in the way and are organized more efficiently. Apps like Finder (shown above) and Mail include new sidebars that enable you to quickly get where you need to go.

MacOS Big Sur Photos App
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The Photos app borrowed the look of its iPadOS cousin, with a bigger focus on photos.

Easier on-screen controls

MacOS Big Sur Control Panel
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The MacBooks Pro’s Touch Bar has had more than its fair share of criticism, but one thing it does really well is quick access to controls. If you want to adjust the system volume, for example, you get a simple left-to-right slider at your fingertips.

That way of thinking is now baked into MacOS. On-screen controls, from volume to display brightness, now use a similar horizontal slider. It may seem like a small change, but it brings the Mac in line with the iPhone, the iPad, the Apple Watch — even the Touch Bar. Your muscle memory will be thankful.

In the screen’s upper-right corner, you can access key controls at a glance. Need to dive a little deeper? Just click on a setting to get more options.

Even better, you can drag settings out of the Control Center and onto the menu bar, giving you an even faster way to adjust the Mac to your liking.

MacOS Big Sur Control Center
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That methodology applies to Notification Center as well. The Mac’s System Preferences app has always felt a bit disorganized, and it has never been as quick or as easy to find settings as we would like. Notifications can now be grouped together.

MacOS Big Sur Widget Library
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Widgets received an upgrade too. The widget library helps you discover new options, and they now come in various sizes. You can’t put them on your desktop yet like on the iPad, but it’s a big change to how Notification Center functions.

Safari steps up

MacOS Big Sur Safari Revision
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Safari plays a key role in the life of most Mac users, and Apple has updated in it a major way with MacOS Big Sur. It promises faster page loading times, stronger privacy controls, better extensions, and much more.

For instance, if you are concerned about how a website is using (or abusing) your private data, you can view Safari’s privacy report to see exactly what is going on. This can show you how many trackers have been blocked on each website, for example.

MacOS Big Sur Safari Security
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A new Safari Extensions category is on the Mac App Store. You can choose what data each extension accesses — and whether it can use it for just one day or on just one website. Apple says developers can easily bring their extensions over from other browsers like Google Chrome.

MacOS Big Sur Safari Extensions
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You’ll enjoy many more added features in this release. Apple is always looking to improve resource allocation, resulting in a fast performing operating system and enhanced battery life. Other goodies include quick translation, customizable startup screens, and enhanced navigation.

Messages gets feature parity

MacOS Big Sur Updated Messaging
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Mac Messenger has been lagging behind its iOS counterpart for some time. Big Sur addresses some long-needed improvements that the app has been missing.

Important conversations are now placed at the top of the window, just like on your favorite iOS device. Features like Memoji and share stickers are also available on the new macOS version, and you can send confetti or firework effects just like you can on your iPhone.

Other features include a redesigned photo selection menu and an enhanced search bar. Now you can use Mac Messenger the way it was meant to be used, as a way to stay in touch with friends and family while working on your macOS machine, rather than reaching for your phone.

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