Although the biggest Mac news to come out of Apple's recent developer conference was the move towards a future based on Apple-designed processors, the next version of macOS was also introduced.

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.

ARM-based Apple Silicon Macs will start to be introduced at the tail end of 2020 but we believe there will be plenty of Intel-based Macs for some time to come

We've now been hands-on with the developer beta for a week to check out all the latest features in the flesh. While developers are able to get hold of a test device based on Apple Silicon (actually a repurposed Mac mini), we're using our Intel Core i5-based 13-inch MacBook Pro from 2017 here - the latest Mac we have to hand. 

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. 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.

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. 

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

macOS 11 Big Sur key features

Apple

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.

The 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.

Apple

There's now an even more iOS-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. All the core apps also have a design refresh.

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

Apple

Safari boost

Apple says that Safari has been given a speed boost which compares favourably with Chrome but notably there was no comparison shown with Microsoft Edge or Firefox. Tabs have also been entirely redesigned and are now identifiable by favicon, bringing it in line with other browsers. There are also some additional personalisation features, too. 

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

Apple

Privacy reports are also now more detailed in Safari, too. 

Apple

Messages enhancements

Messages on the Mac hasn't been the most reliable app since its introduction 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. 

Apple

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. 

Apple

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. You can discover places to visit with Guides or create custom Guides, too. 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?