macOS 11 Big Sur has just been announced at WWDC 2020, and it brings some pretty major improvements to the operating system behind the best Macs, along with some stability improvements.

macOS Big Sur follows macOS Catalina, but where Catalina only had minor improvements over macOS Mojave, this new version is the biggest change to Apple’s operating system in years. 

Chief among these is the migration to Apple-designed silicon. This has been rumored for years, but this, along with macOS Catalyst, will finally bring support for every iOS and iPad app to the Mac operating system. Apple also promises that it will lead to greater efficiency and power – though that remains to be seen. 

We also get a massive redesign in the look of native macOS apps, with Apple giving apps like Messages, Mail, Photos, Calendar and even Finder a fresh, much more compact and streamlined design. Also, we’re finally getting improvements that are more in line with what you get on the iOS, with macOS Big Sur bringing that new widgets feature we’re getting with iOS 14 and iPadOS 14, making your whole Apple experience a much more harmonious and unified experience.

We didn’t get an actual release date for macOS 11, but if Apple follows its typical release schedule, as we’re pretty sure it will, we should see the next Mac operating system hit our computers in either September or October 2020. Still, if you want to get your hands on the operating system right now, you can jump into the developer’s beta starting today, though you should keep in mind that it’s not free. 

This is the biggest macOS release in years, so there’s a lot to talk about. Be sure to keep this page bookmarked, and we’ll keep it updated with the latest information and features. 

Cut to the chase

  • What is it? macOS 11 Big Sur, successor to macOS 10.15 Catalina
  • When is it out? Likely September or October 2020
  • How much will it cost? Nothing. Apple software updates are always free

Upcoming MacBook Pros could come with macOS 10.16 already installed. (Image credit: Future)

macOS 11 Big Sur release date

While macOS Big Sur was revealed today, we don’t know exactly when the general public will be able to download and install it. 

Typically Apple releases its software at the same time each year, so it’s reasonable to expect the macOS 10.16 release date to fall somewhere in September or October 2020. Either way, we won’t actually know the exact date the software will be publicly available until the iPhone event this fall. 

Still, if you’re eager to get your hands on the software, the beta version is available today if you’re a part of the Apple Developer program, which will cost you $99 (about £79, AU$140). We must urge caution to most folks here, though. Early versions of software are prone to bugs, and aren’t quite as secure as public releases. If you’re ok with the risks, though,  the option is open to you. 

macOS 11 Big Sur name

This time around, Apple chose Big Sur to symbolize this release of macOS. Much like the unincorporated coastal area in Northern California, this new macOS is supposed to deliver “unmatched levels of power and beauty.”

We expect macOS 10.16 to bring changes to all sorts of Mac computers. (Image credit: Future)

macOS 11 Big Sur features

Safari
Safari is the unsung hero of macOS, and some new improvements have made it even faster – now 50% faster than Chrome, according to Apple – along with even more privacy improvements and better battery consumption. But, that’s not all. This is supposedly the biggest update the browser has received since it was first introduced. 

This new version of Safari will bring a host of new features to the table including Intelligent Tracking that can give you a Privacy Report on each website you visit, Save Passwords to track your passwords and make sure they haven’t been compromised, Extensions support for WebExtensions API and a new Extensions category in the App Store, and native translation capabilities.

One cool thing here is that the Home Page will now be extremely customizable so you can change the background image and add/edit sections.

Messages improvements
Messages on macOS has been behind iOS for a while (and kind of still is), but now you can use Pinned Messages, Memoji and the Groups Enhancements that will come with the iOS 14, which is a nice touch. Basically, Messages for Mac will also bring many of the features that its iOS 14 and iPad OS 14 versions will have. It’ll also feature a more powerful search, a redesigned photo picker and new messages special effects.

AirPods improvements
On top of some pretty cool Spatial Audio support for the AirPods Pro, a pretty major improvement for AirPods support on macOS is here. Rather than fiddling with your Bluetooth settings when you want to use your AirPods with your Mac, they will automatically switch to your Mac when you start using it. AirPods will now seamlessly and intuitively switch between devices without you doing anything.

Sidebar in Mail and Photos
The Apple Mail and Photo apps have been out of date for a while now, but Apple has brought new designs to a lot of the biggest Mac Apps, with the most notable ones being the new sidebars in Mail and Photos. The Photos app will have the same look, feel and features as its iOS 14 version.

Control Center on Mac
One of the best things about iOS is the super convenient Control Center that lets you change settings at a glance. macOS Big Sur brings that to the Mac, and it’s easily accessible in the Menu Bar, so that you can easily change settings without digging through the preferences app. 

Widgets in the notifications app
Just like iOS 14, macOS 10.16 Big Sur is getting widgets in the notifications menu, which will make it easier to get important information at a glance, with easy to read interfaces. These widgets can be customized according to your needs and preference.

Mac Catalyst
One of the biggest headline features of macOS Mojave was that it brought some big-name iOS apps to the Mac. However, through Mac Catalyst, new APIs and tools will help app developers bring more iOS apps over to the Mac operating system. Through these tools, you’ll get stuff like resizable windows and keyboard tools, which will make them feel like Mac Apps, rather than iPhone apps. 

Mac on ARM

After so many rumors, it’s finally happened. Apple has finally announced that Macs will be transitioning to Apple-designed silicon, similar to what we’ve seen with every other device in its lineup. 

However, this isn’t quite the death knell for Intel that some might think it is. Tim Cook said during the WWDC keynote that there are several Intel-based devices still in the works at Apple, and that the Cupertino behemoth is “very excited” about them. 

Still, this is probably the biggest change to come to the best Macs in years, as it will natively allow all iPhone and iPad apps to work natively on Macs for the first time. And, thanks to Mac Catalyst, and Rosetta 2, which will translate the source code of all Mac Apps, every Mac App will be able to run on the new ARM-based Macs that launch later this year. 

Apple didn’t announce any specific Mac devices that will be using this hardware, but hinted that they’re coming – plus we got to see an unnamed iMac running the new software. Still, Developers can apply for Apple’s Universal App Quick Start Program, to get access to a Mac Mini running the Apple A12Z Bionic SoC. However, this program will cost developers $500 (about £400, AU$720). 

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