All the new shiny glass
As is typically the case for WWDC, Apple announced the new version of macOS, “Big Sur.” Named after a gorgeous stretch of mountainous coastline in California, Apple claims it is the largest design update since OSX launched. Much of the emphasis seems to be on developing a consistent design across the iOS/iPad devices and macOS ecosystems.
macOS has seen a change in the Apple icons across the operating system. Apple says that while they’re similar to the ones on their mobile platform, they still managed to keep the charm of macOS’ historical designs. There is also a lot more of a shaded glass look across the OS, including the notification centre and the dock. Both look much more “modern”, and you can see some stylistic design agreements across the major operating systems, especially now that Microsoft is moving towards rounded corners as well.
Apple brought the Control Centre from mobile to macOS. It has easily accessible settings for things like brightness, volume, Bluetooth, Wi-fi, etc. in the top right of the toolbar. As a predominately Windows user, I had never noticed that the easy access in the taskbar to those settings was not yet available on macOS. This will likely be a well used feature.
Apple’s engineers have added widget support to the notification area. The notification area on Windows is, in my experience, largely misunderstood and unused, mostly to the fact it’s not terribly useful or well designed. Microsoft had experimented with widgets across the desktop in the past, and then dropped them. I’m a little surprised to see Apple resurrecting them. I don’t know that I need another place to see the weather, but Apple does seem to find ways to add features its users appreciate, so maybe they can make it work where others haven’t.
The largest update to macOS is, of course, the architecture support for the new “Apple Silicon” machines later this year. With that change comes the ability of macOS to natively support iOS apps. This will give the Mac ecosystem a sudden and huge shot in the software department. Microsoft also experimented with universal apps, but as is well documented, seems to have had nothing but trouble with the transition. Apple has their new emulation platform, Rosetta 2, and a new update to Catalyst, to help ease the transition to its new silicon, and the canned demos looked impressive, but then they always do. I would guess that Apple has more success with this transition than Microsoft has.
Apple updated a number of system apps yesterday on its other platforms, and it is bringing those updates to macOS.
Apple had quite a few changes to Safari, which it says is 50% faster than chrome on loading the most visited websites. How exactly that testing was done was not mentioned. Gaining the largest update since launch, Safari will offer improved privacy controls, including improved tab support with tabs displaying icons. It also gains a start page, similar to the start pages on the other browsers, with wallpaper support, common accessed pages, and news/updates. Apple also pushed their privacy protection, adding the ability to give temporary access to data for extensions and deeper privacy controls and notifications and password monitoring to let you know if your password has been compromised. Safari will now automatically prompt to translate foreign language pages to whatever your local language.
Messages gains the same features as the mobile versions, as well as improved photo controls and some other “improved” animations, such as confetti. Maps gains all the announced features, as well as new “favorites” functionality.
If you are a macOS user, you can expect to find this, and future, updates coming to your Intel based Mac later this year, though Apple did not state for how many more years you will be able to get updates for Intel machines. It will ship on the new Apple Silicon based machines coming later this year.
Update: Surprisingly, it appears that Big Sur is actually macOS version 11, ending some 20 years of version 10.