(Pocket-lint) - Apple first revealed the features of the next version of macOS at its Worldwide Developer Conference earlier in 2020. 

Called macOS Big Sur - again after a Californian landmark - the new operating system introduces some key new enhancements and ushers in the next generation of Mac - it's the first version that will run on both Intel processors and Apple Silicon.

Here are the features you can expect when you get macOS Big Sur on your new Mac.

The design changes

Apple says it's the biggest design upgrade since the introduction of Mac OS X in 2001. That is the case for sure, but the makeover is mostly skin deep - this isn't a change like System 9 to OS X or Windows. There are new features here, of course, and the design is more aligned to iPadOS/iOS than ever. But this isn't a total overhaul.

While that sounds like a criticism, it isn't because users don't want mass change – especially for something like macOS that people depend upon every day for work and play.

ApplemacOS 11 Big Sur hands on photo 3

What's also interesting is that Apple has sought to designate macOS Big Sur as a new generation of macOS by changing its version number from 10.x to 11. To give you an indication as to that change, Apple moved to 10.0 in 2001 when macOS was known as Mac OS X. 

However, it seems the move to 11 from 10.15 has been relatively short in the making - the developer build actually had a version number of 10.16 when we installed it. Yep, it's almost 10GB in size.

ApplemacOS 11 Big Sur hands on photo 1

So what's new in macOS Big Sur? Let's find out. 

macOS 11 Big Sur key features

AppleApple macOS 11 Big Sur All the key new Mac features explored image 3

Complete design refresh

macOS 10.xx (or macOS X as it originally) has changed significantly in design over time since its 2001 launch, but there's never been such a big refresh in one go as there is this year.

That colour palette, window edges, icons, menu bar and buttons have all been refreshed and yes, it seems very much more iPad-like in appearance. A new translucent menu bar moves icons out of view when you're not using them if you have stacks of icons there. 

ApplemacOS 11 Big Sur hands on photo 4

Pop-ups have been refreshed with a new look (again, they're more iPadOS in look). Because you see pop-ups all the time but don't really pay much attention to them, this is actually quite a striking change - it really does make you feel like 'something has changed' in your day-to-day use of macOS. 

ApplemacOS 11 Big Sur hands on photo 13

The built-in app icons have also been modified so they're iOS/iPadOS squares instead of the circular icons we've seen a lot in recent times. But the 3D design of them looks a little old fashioned compared to iOS/iPadOS equivalents and some of the other third-party apps you can see in our Launchpad view here. Indeed, they seem almost to have a design reminiscent of early iOS. 

ApplemacOS 11 Big Sur hands on photo 5

Mac Catalyst apps (ported from iOS and iPadOS) automatically inherit the new look.

ApplemacOS 11 Big Sur hands on photo 8

Control Center and widgets

There's now an even more iPadOS-like Control Center in the customisable menu bar, while Notification Center has also been made more interactive with redesigned widgets that can be different sizes.

ApplemacOS 11 Big Sur hands on photo 11

Again this is very similar to the iPadOS experience we've got in iPadOS 14 but in full screen. 

ApplemacOS 11 Big Sur hands on photo 9

Some Mac owners will find it amusing that Apple has returned to widgets in this fashion - remember the OS X Dashboard - a sort of desktop for widgets? That feature was only finally removed last year in macOS Catalina but hadn't been updated since OS X Lion in 2011. 

ApplemacOS 11 Big Sur hands on photo 7

Safari boost

Apple says that Safari has been given a speed boost which compares favourably with Chrome but notably the company has shared no comparison with Microsoft Edge or Firefox.

Privacy reports are also now more detailed in Safari, too, as you can see above and you'll be quite surprised how many trackers your favourite and not-so-favourite sites are using. 

Tabs have also been entirely redesigned and are now identifiable by favicon (finally!), bringing Safari in line with other browsers. There are also some additional personalisation features, too. 

ApplemacOS 11 Big Sur hands on photo 12

Safari Extensions will be easier to install and use and can be found more easily in the Mac App Store as you can see here. 

AppleApple macOS 11 Big Sur All the key new Mac features explored image 8

Messages enhancements

Messages on the Mac hasn't been the most reliable app since its introduction (we can't get rid of a phantom notification even after upgrading the OS) but now things are being beefed up, with new tools to pin important conversations for quick access and share expressive messages. Search is now much easier to use. You can also now use balloons, confetti and Memojis on the Mac, too. 

AppleApple macOS 11 Big Sur All the key new Mac features explored image 9

Group messaging has also been made a lot easier on the Mac, too, with inline replies and group icon photos to easily identify the group. 

ApplemacOS 11 Big Sur hands on photo 14

A better Maps

Maps has also received a power-up in iOS and iPad OS and so new features also come to the Mac as well, although these seem limited in scope in the beta. You can discover places to visit with Guides or create custom Guides, too (as we're doing here). Look around enables you to view destinations in 360 degrees, while there are also cycling and EV features, too. 

Looking to upgrade your current Mac to Big Sur? Check out macOS Big Sur system requirements: Which Macs and MacBooks support macOS 11?

Writing by Dan Grabham.