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MacOS Big Sur: 5 best new features to try

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Check out all of the best new features in the MacOS Big Sur public beta, available now.


Apple

This story is part of Apple Event, our full coverage of the latest news from Apple headquarters.

The final version of Apple’s latest Mac operating system, MacOS Big Sur, will arrive on Thursday, Apple executives said during a virtual event on Tuesday. The tech giant also unveiled new Macs running on Apple’s M1 silicon chip. In the meantime, the public beta version of Big Sur (also known as MacOS 11) has been up and running since August, and is full of new and redesigned features that make for a better user experience that you can try out before the final release, if you want to.

Big Sur will be the first version of the OS to run on Apple’s new Arm-based Macs, as well as its older Intel-based machines, Apple announced at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference in June. If you do purchase a new MacBook Pro, MacBook Air or Mac Mini with the M1 chip, MacOS Big Sur is optimized to run on these machines. Apps will run faster and more smoothly, Apple executives said during the event, and you’ll also see increased device security. 

If you want to test out the new operating system on your current device before its final release, we can tell you how to download the MacOS Big Sur public beta, and which Macs you can run it on. Now that we’re close to a final release, it’s likely that the public beta is less buggy. But it’s still safest to wait until the general release on Thursday. 

Here are five parts of MacOS Big Sur with new features you’ll want to check out when you do make the switch, and how you’ll use them after you download the public beta or main release version later.


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Safari 

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Apple

What’s new: Perhaps the biggest upgrade in MacOS Big Sur comes in Apple’s Safari web browser. Apple said that this is the biggest update to Safari since its launch in 2003. The revamped browser will load the websites you visit most often faster, and have better tab management capabilities. You’ll also find improved privacy features, including a privacy report button that lets you see how websites track your data and monitor if any of your passwords were compromised in a security breach

A new App Store category for Safari extensions will let you customize which sites and times each extension is used, if you don’t want it running all the time. And a customizable Safari start page will let you pick from a curated group of wallpapers or use one of your own photos. You can also use it to translate languages from seven different languages with a built-in feature. 

How you’ll use it: Open the Safari browser the same way you did before. Where you go next depends on what you want to do: If you scroll to a website in another language, you’ll be able to hit a button to translate it. If you have several tabs open, you’ll see the website favicons by default so you can spot the one you want faster. Preview the content in a tab by hovering over it, and click to delete all tabs to the right of one tab. Tap the privacy report button to see what data is being collected on the site you’re browsing.

Messages

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Apple

What’s new: The new Messages app in MacOS Big Sur includes ways to pin conversations (similar to a feature in the new iOS 14), options to better wrangle group messages, a redesigned search function and new options for designing Memoji and using message effects. 

How you’ll use it: Pin important conversations to the top of the app for faster access. Direct-message one person in a group and thread messages within a group, to keep those big chats under control. Type someone’s name out in the group to tag them directly in the conversation. You can choose to only be notified of new messages in the group when your name is mentioned. Organize your search results by links, photos or matching terms. Add message effects like balloons and confetti, and create and customize your Memoji on the Mac. 

Maps

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Apple

What’s new: The new Maps app in Big Sur includes more options to help you explore new places and share what you find, see detailed indoor maps of major airports and shopping centers, see a 360-degree view of a destination and use EV routing. 

How you’ll use it: Explore an area with Guides from trusted resources, or create your own, marking your favorite restaurants, parks and vacation spots to create a Guide that you can share with friends and family. Get a 360-degree view of a destination with a feature called Look Around. See detailed indoor maps of major airports and shopping centers. If you have an electric car or scooter, use EV routing, which will take factors like charging stations, weather, elevation and your electric vehicle’s current charge level into account on your route. 

Widgets

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Apple

What’s new: Like iOS 14 and iPadOS 14, MacOS Big Sur brings widgets to your home screen. Widgets are large, dynamic icons that display live app information, like the weather or your daily step count. 

How you’ll use it: Instead of opening weather, calendar or fitness tracking apps, use widgets to see an overview of their core information displayed in a live feed on your home screen. Display different widgets at different times of day, so you see the weather in the morning and the news in the afternoon, for example. Create widgets in small, medium or large sizes. 

iPhone and iPad apps 

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Apple

What’s new: If you buy one of Apple’s upcoming Macs that are powered by the company’s new Apple silicon chips, your computer will be able to natively run iPhone and iPad apps. 

How you’ll use it: Go to the Mac App Store to install the new apps. Many iOS apps will be able to run alongside MacOS apps. If you’ve already bought an app on iOS, you won’t need to buy it again for MacOS — you’ll just download it there, too. 

For more, check out how to download MacOS Big Sur, and which Macs are compatible with MacOS Big Sur.


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