Big Sur Public Bata

This article is based on an article from the Japanese edition of Engadget and was created using the translation tool Deepl.


The new macOS Big Sur, announced at WWDC 2020, includes some of the most significant changes to the OS for Mac in recent years. Needless to say, support for Apple's proprietary processors is a major part of the changes, but there are also major changes in terms of user interface and design.

The official release of Big Sur is expected in October, but we'd like to take a look at what's new in Big Sur now that the public beta version has been released.

The screens in this article are all from the public beta version of macOS Big Sur.

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The look and feel of macOS and iOS combined

 Big Sur Public Bata

The redesign of macOS was still in progress at WWDC 2020, but the design refinement is getting even more sophisticated as we move toward the public release of the beta version. We described it in our first impressions as "Obviously a Mac, but more iPhone/iPad than you'd expect," and the feel has become even more thorough.

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For example, the control center.

 Big Sur Public Bata

The user interface, which consolidates iOS status and setting operations into a simple panel, looks and feels just like iOS but is usable on macOS.

The control center display design follows iOS, but in iOS, you have to tap and hold (or press harder in 3D Touch) to access the next level of the hierarchy, but in macOS, you have to click on icons to get to the next level. It is designed to make you feel the difference between touch and mouse operations without any sense of discomfort, making you feel unified just by doing it.

 Big Sur Public Bata

The slightly more rounded windows and desktop corners, as well as the softly lit design taste with lots of translucency, are familiar to iOS users. The flat-looking icons with rounded corners are well-balanced with macOS and have an iOS-like feel.

In addition, the flat design of iOS and the realistic icons of macOS continue to be well-designed, and are well suited to both.

 Big Sur Public Bata

If you look at it more closely, Big Sur uses a lot of designs that are different in manner from traditional macOS. If you look at the design of the standard Apple apps designed for Big Sur, you'll notice that many of them have a layout that looks like a single sheet of paper, like an iPad application without a title bar.

Some apps look as if they don't have any window control buttons at first glance, but they are designed to appear when you move the mouse around in the window, so it's almost impossible to get lost. The look and feel introduced in the iPad OS has been actively introduced, such as the look of the toolbars and the way the entire button appears to be inverted when the mouse is rolled over. As we mentioned last time, the fact that it's quite a lot of changes, but not so much that it doesn't get lost in the operation may be because of the daily interaction with iOS devices.

 Big Sur Public Bata

Either way, it's an extremely meticulous redesign, and it feels like a lot of time and effort has gone into it. This is just speculation, but it's likely that Apple has been meticulously working on this redesign to ensure that the iOS apps fit in with the Mac desktop without any discomfort when using the Mac Katalyst, which provides compatibility with iOS apps. Of course, those familiarities will be a major factor when running iOS / iPadOS apps on an Apple Silicon powered Mac.

It's not just the look and feel that's similar

The "behavior" of the MacOS and iOS user interface feels closer because that is probably what Apple is aiming for. By keeping iOS and macOS close, it's easier for macOS to reflect iOS improvements and additions in terms of functionality. The way the Control Center is built is exactly that on the ground, but the fact that the Notification Center is designed in common with iOS represents a thread of integration, not just in terms of look and feel, but in terms of functionality.

Notifications to the Notification Center are nearly identical to the display for iOS, and even the widgets have been introduced with a new widget design for iOS 14. This means that widgets that work on both iOS and macOS will be easy to provide. If the switch to Apple Silicon allows iOS/iPadOS apps to work on the Mac, then the widgets defined in those apps can be utilized within macOS.

In fact, when using Big Sur, not only does the basic design taste feel like iOS, but you can use the mouse or trackpad to perform operations that should be done on the touchscreen without feeling any major discomfort. It's not exactly the same (slightly different), but the feel is the same. This is in some respects similar to the iPadOS on the keyboard, though in a different direction of approach. The fact that this is an extremely well planned design change should be evident when you actually use it.

Changing the window layout brings iOS and macOS app design closer

Announced at WWDC last year, Mac Catalyst, which allows apps for iOS/iPad OS to run on the Mac, was initially used for voice memos, stocks, podcasts, Apple TV, photos, etc., but Big Sur will also port messages and maps from the iPad version using Mac Catalyst (such as the official Twitter client for third parties).

While Big Sur's maps share the same development code with the iPad OS version, the macOS version features multi-window usage, but the functionality is exactly the same. Therefore, the EV-aware route search and cycling route search, which will be introduced in iOS 14, can also be used on macOS.

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The same thing is true for Messages. Previously, iMessage could be used from Mac, but the expressions and functions were minimal. But now that the program code is common, there is no difference in functionality. The macOS version will not only have the same features as the iOS version, but will also be refined as the iOS features are brushed up. This is a good thing for Apple and Mac users, as it allows them to divert their big iPhone development investments to the Mac. A similar effect can be expected for third party apps in the future.

However, one concern is that the same divergence between desktop apps and touchscreen-based Metro apps on Windows could happen on Mac. The process of maturing Mac Catalyst over the past two years should have been a work in progress to fill that gap.

In the end, Big Sur changed the window design, button layout and design of the macOS app, while at the same time separating iOS from iPadOS and proposing a usage and design that is more compatible with the keyboard. The timing of this intersection of the two sides made the familiarity between the two sufficiently high. The new window layout, which merges the title bar, tool bar, and sidebar, and the design of symbols (icons) to indicate line spacing and functions in the sidebar, provide not only a sense of unity of operation, but also a functional and intuitive user interface.

 Big Sur Public Bata

Previously, the various app display components were arranged vertically underneath the title bar and tool bar. However, in the new design, the window control buttons and sidebar have been integrated, and the window title has been omitted. The toolbar symbols have been slid to the top position of the window. A look at the standard mail application shows that the list of messages and the display of the message body are now arranged vertically with more room for information to be more visible.

 Big Sur Public Bata

Safari's increased visibility of privacy information

In my column during WWDC 2020, I reported on how surprised I was by the speed of the new Safari on the Big Sur. We'll refrain from benchmarking it as it's still in beta, but as we use it, we've noticed that it uses less battery power when enjoying streaming videos such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.

Apple is touting lower rendering power consumption than its rivals for normal web browsing as well, but one thing we've been focusing on with the new Safari for a while is the visualization of a "tracker" that tracks visitor behavior. Internet ads embedded in websites often track what type of content their viewers are viewing while moving between different sites. It's not the site that's showing them, but the provider of the ad service that's tracking them. Google, Yahoo! Japan, and Criteo in Japan, which specializes in online advertising.

These are not tied to a specific email address, name, or address, but rather to track content viewed by anonymous visitors in order to infer ads that may be of interest to them. Safari originally had the ability to automatically block such tracking, but the latest version adds the ability to show you what sites are using what tracker services and which trackers have tried to track how many sites in the past 30 days.

 Big Sur Public Bata

On the Mac I'm testing, trackers were found on 55% of sites, and in 147 cases they were prevented from creating a tracking profile. As with Safari's previous password security monitoring features, these features will help you gain knowledge and experience with your own Internet security.

In addition, you can also allow the application of browser extensions on each website. Allowing these extensions only on specific sites where they are absolutely necessary will help prevent security holes from occurring through them. Also, this permission is not permanent, but the option to allow it only on the same day is available.

Ready to introduce Apple Silicon??

Our honest impression at this point is that the development of Big Sur is progressing well, but the integration of the user interface with the iOS / iPadOS is probably better than we expected. By the end of the year, the Apple Silicon powered Macs will hit the market and should bring the two worlds even closer together.

Software compatibility will also run on the iOS / iPadOS apps themselves, rather than running on Mac Catalyst, which is compatible at the API level (but not all of them, the developer needs to confirm and specify distribution on the Mac AppStore). Because the iOS / iPadOS app lacks the essential elements of the Mac's mouse cursor and keyboard controls. It might require a mouse or trackpad alternative that supports multi-touch operation, but menus, preference sheets, basic dialog calls and scrollbars are all automatically generated by Big Sur.

 Big Sur Public Bata

No such app is available in the App Store at this time, but you can try it out for yourself using Xcode. As long as you're not using a device or sensor that is only built into a smartphone or other device, there is a fairly high degree of compatibility. In particular, if it is for the iPad OS, you won't feel any discomfort even if the user interface design itself is shared.

The migration plan from Intel to Apple Silicon is expected to take two years to complete. Big Sur, when evaluated as a starting point, will be a pretty cozy first release. It will be interesting to see how it turns out.

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Screens of the public beta version of macOS Big Sur have been published with special permission based on interviews.


This article is based on an article from the Japanese edition of Engadget and was created using the translation tool Deepl. The Japanese edition of Engadget does not guarantee the accuracy or reliability of this article.