The era of macOS 10 is over, and we’re entering the next era of macOS’s life cycle. This is going to be a massive update, and aside from the transition to ARM, it can be summed up as “macOS: iOS Edition”: the entire graphical user interface has been redesigned to resemble iOS, including massive amounts of whitespace, touch-friendly design, and very white roundrect icons.
The new operating system brings the biggest redesign since the introduction of macOS 10, according to Apple. Big Sur borrows a number of elements from Apple’s iOS, including a customizable Control Center, where you can change brightness and toggle Do Not Disturb, and a new notification center, which groups related notifications together. Both interfaces are translucent, like their iOS counterparts.
A number of apps have received streamlined new redesigns, including Mail, Photos, Notes, and iWork. Apple has introduced a new search feature to Messages (which organizes results into links, photos, and matching terms), as well as inline replies for group chats, a new photo-selection interface, and Memoji stickers. There’s a new version of Maps for Mac that borrows features from the iOS app, including custom Guides, 360-degree location views, cycling and electric vehicle directions (which you can send directly to an iPhone), and indoor maps. Apple introduced a number of new Catalyst apps as well.
I’m not entirely sure about the look, especially since it feels very much like a touch UI that won’t work and feel as well when using a mouse of a trackpad – it looks like a 1:1 copy of the iPad Pro’s iPadOS user interface, for better or worse. Still, judging a GUI by mere screenshots and short videos is a folly, so let’s reserve final judgment until we get to use it.
That being said, if you want to try the new GUI now, you can just load up any GNOME-based distribution and apply any of the countless iOS-inspired themes found on Gnome-Look.org.
An additional massively important feature is that the upcoming ARM-based Macs will be able to run iOS and iPadOS application unmodified, as-is, much like how Chrome OS can run Android applications. This further underlines how despite years of Apple and its advocates poo-pooing Windows for combining cursor and touch-based interfaces, Apple is now pretty much past any idea of combining the two, and has instead just opted to make everything touch-first, whether you use a mouse or not.
Lastly, macOS 11 will come with Rosetta 2, which will allow x86 applications to run unmodified on ARM-based Macs. That’s definitely good news for early adopters, but performance will obviously be a concern with emulation technology such as this.