Hands on view of everything new in macOS Big Sur

Apple has finally breathed new life into Mac as part of a radical overhaul and infusion feature set to come up with macOS Big Sur. We take the first beta version to see how everything works.

A renewed design.

It is immediately noticeable, from the initial startup, that macOS Big Sur has a completely renewed design. It’s clean, shiny, and consistent, and it makes fun of similar design tweaks seen on iOS and iPadOS.

You can see it in the new dock which is full of new icons. Some icons look a bit dull, like Quicktime just hit by a “Q” for Quicktime on a blue background, but many of the icons look great.

MacOS Big Sur Dock

The menu bar is translucent and blends into the background. This looks great, although translucency can cause readability problems for people with vision problems. The menu bar on the right with all its status icons is also improved.

Menu bar items like Volume, AirPlay, Wi-Fi have received a new look that feels much more in line with what iPhones and iPads offered. A lot has gotten into a new feature for Mac: Control Center. The Control Center houses Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, AirPlay, and many other common utilities. This helps remove clutter from the menu bar itself, but if you want to keep them on your menu bar, you can drag them directly to where you want.

Control center in Big Sur

Many applications also have a new look. They come with full-height sidebars and new SF Symbols 2 icons that was ported from iOS and again, makes everything more consistent.

Control center with controls now playing


Safari has also received a massive overhaul and frankly deserves a deep dive on its own. But reaching the highest points, Safari is now faster and more efficient than ever.

Safari on macOS Big Sur

It has a clean interface with a new customizable home page that can be adapted to your liking. Tabs are easier to use and accessible, with better icons and previews every time you scroll.

Safari has a new feature called Privacy Report that, when clicked when visiting a website, will let you know how many crawlers were found and if they stopped using cross-site crawling in Safari.

Safari privacy report on macOS Big Sur

Safari also has password monitoring, built-in translation for web pages, and more.

Other app enhancements

Maps was another app reviewed this year. It is built on Catalyst and is much more fluid and natural than the previous design. We are only in the first beta version of macOS Big Sur, but it is a great improvement over what we had before.

Maps in macOS Big Sur

Maps not only look better, but include bike routing, EV vehicle routing with charging locations, selected guides, Look Around, and interior maps for airports and shopping malls.

Messages is almost on par with its iPhone and iPad counterparts in Big Sur, too. Up to nine conversations can be pinned in the left sidebar, making them much easier to follow. The search is also robust and works much better than in the previous version of macOS. These changes are very welcome.

Messages in macOS Big Sur

You can name group conversations, assign a picture, mention features for different participants, and offer online responses for more manageable reading.

The app icon is also here on the Mac. Clicking allows users to now insert Memoji stickers, search for gifs, access photos with a new image picker, and send messages with various effects.

Messages in macOS Big Sur

Messages have lagged behind the iPhone and iPad with a poor interface, an unresponsive search, and none of the new features Apple has added to its mobile variant over the years. It finally seems like Mac is getting some love with this massive Big Sur update.

We saw some nice changes to the photos, like a smoother interface, an improved retouch tool powered by machine learning, new editing options for photos, portrait photos and videos, and more relevant memories with additional soundtracks.

Photos in macOS Big Sur

Music and podcasts have new designs and recommendations for you, like many other applications on the system.

Music on macOS Big Sur

The Home app received a major update with a new sidebar, status icons on top, and countless changes as part of HomeKit Secure Video. Apple will also be opening Catalyst for HomeKit apps this year, so we should now see plenty of third-party startup apps coming to Mac.

Starter app on macOS Big Sur

A completely new Mac

Apple is putting a lot of work into the Mac. Not just reworking the user interface, but duplicating Catalyst for easier ports for existing iPad apps. Macs will also run on Apple silicon with future hardware, allowing iPad and iPhone apps to run natively.

The Mac feels revitalized and fresh for the first time in years, and users will instantly recognize the difference with a new look, feel, improved performance, and new features.

Stay tuned to AppleInsider for additional coverage of new Apple operating systems.