I honestly can't Remember when I started writing about mobile crawling in macOS. It happened little by little, update by update. My previous fears that it would be completely under the influence of iOS have so far not materialized, but the iPhone's operating system remains the clearest indicator of future desktop updates.
It is, of course, clear why one of the Apple operating systems would do this borrow so generously from another. The iPhone has been the leader in the company for more than a decade, and continues to monopolize resources and serves as a test ground for its latest experiences. Even though the Mac is preparing for the most radical update in the last memory with the switch from Intel to custom ARM processors, the shadow of iOS is far beyond Big Sur.
There are a million reasons why this year's WWDC was strange. One of the unsung instances was the surprise that the next version of macOS would be 11.0. The fact was never explicitly mentioned in the keynote, although the number was displayed on the screen during a demo. It certainly seems worth mentioning the first primary number upgrade in 20 years, but who can ultimately say why Apple is doing the things it does?
What we can say with certainty is that Big Sur represents a major advance in the development of macOS in many ways. The first and probably most important is the hardware update mentioned above. These first systems are expected to be available later this year, probably in the form of new iMac and MacBooks. The second, and probably more symbolic, is one of the more radical design changes in the current memory of the operating system.
For those who are less familiar with the operating system, the design changes are likely to feel subtle. For those of us who basically spend the whole day staring at the operating system every day, they are inevitable. Big Sir borrows the iOS design language generously. The well-known circle symbols have disappeared and make room for the variety of circles that you can find on the iPhone. As always, it's up to third-party developers to decide if they want to participate. Right now, my app folder is a mix of circles and rounded squares. There are funny little details everywhere, like this address on the envelope of the mail symbol:
Another influence of iOS is the demand for more translucency in the entire user interface, especially in the form of the menu bar, which corresponds better to the dropdown menus themselves. These are now larger and offer a little more space to breathe. The gap in general is a big deal throughout the update.
These include the new Finder windows, which also use more translucent elements and rounded corners. The dock hovers slightly above the bottom of the screen. Standard sound updates may take the longest to get used to. I only discovered this when I took a screenshot for this review – the well-known sound of the camera shutter was exchanged for a bit of plunk. I'm not sure how I feel about it if I'm honest.
Perhaps the biggest update for Finder is the most obvious lift from iOS. Other elements such as the Notification Center and Launchpad are connected via the Control Center. As with iOS, it's a translucent drop-down menu that gives quick access to settings. Here it is accessible via an icon in the menu bar, but every element here calls for a touchscreen. Seriously, the controls for brightness and tone of the display have to be set by hand. A clear indication of plans for future Macs? Apple has long insisted that PCs and touchscreens are like oil and water, but there are some signs that the company's stance may wane.
Other control panel options include Do Not Disturb mode, media playback, WiFi, Bluetooth, and Airdrop. The available controls can be customized. You can also drag an option from the panel and pin it to the menu bar.
Speaking of the notification center: there is also an update. It's free-floating, like other new design elements, and offers a lot more information options, including weather, stocks, and calendar events, as well as upcoming third-party widgets. Like the Control Center, it is customizable in terms of both content and widget size. Certain types of content such as emails and new podcasts can also be edited directly from the Notification Center.
Here are some updates to the news app itself. Conversations can easily be pinned to the top of the list using drag & drop. Group messaging has been improved and offers the possibility to comment on certain messages in the line – a function that is also introduced in iOS 14. Certain members can be directly marked with an “@” symbol, and a photo can be set to identify the group.
An improved search is also noteworthy. To be honest, searching the desktop version of the app has long been a nuisance. Links, photos and other highlights are summarized here. There are a number of new iOS-style news effects with things like balloons, confetti, and lasers to celebrate. Memojis can now be edited on the desktop, and Apple has also added memoji stickers for quicker responses.
Safari always seems to find the greatest love in the updates. It is clear that Apple really wants its browser to remain competitive with Chrome and Firefox. Key updates include the ability to set a wallpaper and customizable homepage, manually customize favorites, and support other enhancements.
The tabs have been redesigned and the favicon is now displayed by default. Hovering over a tab will preview the hidden page – a really useful addition. Rendering speed has improved and the company says the browser is overall more energy efficient than previous versions. Apple has also found another way to take over Google directly by adding a new translation feature that is currently in beta with seven languages: English, Spanish, Simplified Chinese, French, German, Russian, and Brazilian Portuguese.
A handful of new map features should be mentioned here. Look Around offers a new function in Street View style, with which you can easily get to where you are – or simply live as a representative in this time of immobility. When you click “Look Inside” at selected locations such as airports and shopping malls, a top view of the interior map is displayed. A handful of cities have been expanded to include bike directions (they don't seem to be fully implemented for NYC in the beta I used), along with an electric vehicle direction feature that shows you the route with the most access to the charging station.
Big Sur's public beta has been released today. The final version of the software is expected to be released in the fall.