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Saturday, December 05, 2020

Apple macOS Big Sur review: A much needed revamp

Apple macOS Big Sur is ushering in one of the biggest changes in Apple’s operating system for Macs. It brings the overall look and functionality on macOS closer to how things are on iOS.

Written by Shruti Dhapola | Chandigarh | Updated: November 13, 2020 4:27:03 pm
Apple macOS Big Sur, macOS Big Sur, macOS Big Sur installation, macOS Big Sur top features, macOS Big Sur best features, macOS Big Sur downloadApple's macOS Big Sur is rolling out later today: What does the new OS bring for MacBook users? Read our review of the public beta. (Image source: Shruti Dhapola/Indian Express)

“Shruti why can’t I see the Bluetooth option in the menu bar on top of the Mac. Why can’t they just make it simpler.”

That was my husband ranting as he tried to connect my AirPods to his MacBook ahead of his urgent court hearing. Of course, I had to step in as tech support and fix the problem quickly. Thankfully with macOS Big Sur, this kind of hunt for the Bluetooth option won’t happen given that it adds a new Control Centre right in the Menu Bar. And that’s just one of the design changes that the new operating system brings in.

It would be fair to say macOS Big Sur is ushering in one of the biggest changes in Apple’s operating system for Macs. It brings the overall look and functionality on macOS closer to how things are on iOS. This is yet another sign of the kind of integration that Apple wants to exercise over all of the devices in its ecosystem.

I’ve been using the public beta Big Sur on my MacBook Air (2018 version) for over a week and here’s what I thought. I’m focusing on the aspects which will be most relevant for India users.

Apple macOS Big Sur, macOS Big Sur, macOS Big Sur installation, macOS Big Sur top features, macOS Big Sur best features, macOS Big Sur download MacOS Big Sur brings a new redesigned Dock and icons which have a fresh look. (Image source: Shruti Dhapola/Indian Express)

macOS Big Sur: The big design change

With macOS Big Sur, the design changes are impossible to ignore. The Dock at the bottom is more translucent with redesigned app icons. Apple is ditching the familiar round icons for a more rounded square look. Even when the Dock gets crowded it does not seem so overwhelming, like it does on my older MacBook Air (2015 model), which runs the macOS Catalina.

The Menu Bar on top is now taller, more translucent and it’s not a change you can miss. The extra spacing between menus, controls and sidebars gives a neater look, especially when I compared it to the older macOS Catalina.

Read more: One More Thing: With the M1, Tim Cook just did a Steve Jobs! | Why Apple making its own computer chips is a big deal

In macOS Big Sur, the Menu Bar text will also change automatically to sport a light or dark appearance depending on the colour of your desktop picture. So when I switch to a darker picture, the Menu Bar gets lighter, and vice-versa. These are subtle changes one might not notice all the time, but they are well executed.

The design changes are apparent across the board. When you open a window, the lighter and more spacious appearance continues. Apple has also added new symbols in toolbars, sidebars, and controls across apps. For instance, in the Mail app, the toolbar is right at the top of each message with more spacing between each button. It is a cleaner look that is definitely pleasing and easier on the eyes. The macOS Big Sur also sees updated sounds for system functions like when you trash a file or transfer a file.

Apple macOS Big Sur, macOS Big Sur, macOS Big Sur installation, macOS Big Sur top features, macOS Big Sur best features, macOS Big Sur download The new macOS Big Sur has a lot more spacing and a neater look. (Image source: Shruti Dhapola/Indian Express)

macOS Big Sur: iOS deja vu

The similarities with iOS are hard to ignore on macOS Big Sur and I mean that in a good way. There’s the new Control Centre, which can be accessed from the Menu Bar on top. So you can access the display brightness, WiFi, Bluetooth, Sound level, Keyboard brightness, all from this one point. This direct access to crucial system settings will definitely be appreciated.

Apple macOS Big Sur, macOS Big Sur, macOS Big Sur installation, macOS Big Sur top features, macOS Big Sur best features, macOS Big Sur download A new Control Centre is there in macOS Big Sur. (Image source: Apple)

The notification panel has been redesigned completely and is similar to how it functions on iOS. With interactive notifications, you can respond to these straight from the panel without having to open the app. For instance, if a Message is delivered on your Mac, you can tap on the Options button, choose Show More and just reply to the message straight from the panel.

If an email comes in the Mail app, you can choose to delete it or archive it, straight from notifications itself. Another useful addition. The notifications panel has widgets similar to iOS 14. The new design will also group notifications together based on the app or if there’s a thread.

Safari gets a redesign in line with the rest of the OS with a cleaner, lighter look. Apple is adding a built-in translation tool to Safari, though this is limited to seven languages for now. The languages supported are Chinese, French, German, Russian, and Brazilian Portuguese.

Apple macOS Big Sur, macOS Big Sur, macOS Big Sur installation, macOS Big Sur top features, macOS Big Sur best features, macOS Big Sur download Safari also gets a redesign in line with the rest of apps on macOS Big Sur. (Image source: Shruti Dhapola/Indian Express)

The browser can now monitor if any of your passwords have been involved in a data breach, which is certainly a useful tool. If Safari discovers that this is the case with one of your saved passwords, it will ask you to update and will also suggest an automatically generated secure one. Of course, Safari continues with its privacy focus and will show trackers used by websites, the number of trackers blocked, and a detailed privacy report for your browsing.

On the Messaging app, Apple is adding more features in line with what we have seen on iOS with pinned messages, group messaging, and yes, Memoji. You can actually create a Memoji character from your MacBook, and send in Messages. This is a good addition for those who are still on older iPhones like the iPhone 8 and below, where Memoji is not supported.

Apple is adding Expressive messaging support for Indian festivals. So when you wish someone ‘Happy Diwali’ via Messages on iOS, you will see fireworks go off in the background. It does make for quite a nice touch. The messaging animation will apply for greetings sent in 23 local languages in India.

On the App Store, users will now be able to see a section that will highlight each app’s privacy practices before you download it. Apple says this “works the same way nutrition labels,” though let’s face it some of us can’t be bothered to read either. But what Apple is trying to do here is to make the privacy policy available in a clear and simple format to users, which is a smart idea and an important step.

Apple is also bringing Optimized Battery Charging to MacBooks with the new update. This will reduce battery ageing as it will hold the battery at an 80 percent charge while your Mac is plugged in for extended periods of time. This feature — similar to what is seen on iPhones — is also needed given many of us are working from home and likely to leave our MacBooks plugged in forever. But the feature is limited to Mac notebooks with Thunderbolt 3. Users can also see a detailed history for the past 24 hours and the past 10 days for battery usage.

The update also brings more tools to the Photos app, especially for video editing. Again this is something we have seen on iOS. Adjustments, filters, and crop functions are now supported for video editing on Macs as well, earlier this was limited to Photos. One can rotate, increase exposure, or even apply filters to videos. Apple India will also get 20 new document fonts designed just for the country.

macOS Big Sur review: Who all can upgrade, should you?

The following models are compatible with the macOS Big Sur update: iMac 2014 and later, MacBook Air 2013 and later, iMac Pro 2017 and later (all models), MacBook Pro starting from the late 2013 version and later. The Mac Pro 2013 and later and MacBook 2015 and later along with Mac mini (2014 and later) are also eligible for the update. The OS will start rolling out later today.

If you are wondering if you should hit upgrade, I’d say yes. The public beta has been smooth on the MacBook Air I’ve been using and I’m a fan of the new design. Big Sur brings a modern and refreshed look to Mac, which was much needed.

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