macOS 11 Big Sur: features, supported Macs, everything we know

macOS 11 Big Sur
(Image credit: Apple)

Apple has officially released macOS Big Sur, its latest operating system for Macs and MacBooks.

The new macOS Big Sur is bringing some pretty major – not to mention, exciting – improvements to the operating system that powers the best Macs. Where its predecessor, macOS Catalina, only had minor improvements over macOS Mojave, macOS 11 Big Sur should bring in the biggest changes to Apple's operating system in years. 

Better yet, according to Craig Federighi, Apple's senior VP of Software Engineering, macOS Big Sur is built from its 'core' to take advantage of and run pretty well on Apple's new M1 chip. Thanks to this new chip, owners of the new Macs can run iPhone and iPad apps directly on their Mac.

With the new MacBook Air (2020), new Mac mini and new MacBook Pro 13 (2020) all available to buy right now, these new Macs are powered by the new M1 chip, and come with macOS 11 Big Sur installed, so they are expected to be real showcases for what Big Sur, and the M1 chip, can do.

In addition, the macOS 11 Big Sur is bringing in a massive redesign in the look of native macOS apps – on top of delivering some stability improvements. Apple is finally giving apps like Messages, Mail, Photos, Calendar and even Finder a fresh, much more compact and streamlined design. 

That’s on top of cool new features that are more in line with those on the upcoming iOS 14 and iPadOS 14, with macOS Big Sur bringing widgets. This should make your whole Apple experience a much more harmonious and unified experience.

As macOS 11 Big Sur is the biggest macOS release in years, there’s a lot to talk about. Let’s delve into the most important updates, changes and new features here. 

That way, you can decide whether or not it’s a good time for you to upgrade your macOS. If you have upgraded and decided it's not for you, here's how to downgrade macOS and go back to macOS Catalina. Be sure to keep this page bookmarked, and we'll keep it updated with the latest information and features.

Cut to the chase

  • What is it? macOS 11 Big Sur, successor to macOS 10.15 Catalina
  • When is it out? It is available now
  • How much will it cost? Nothing. Apple software updates are always free

MacBook Pro (15-inch, 2019)

Upcoming MacBook Pros could come with macOS 11 already installed. (Image credit: Future)

macOS 11 Big Sur release date

While macOS Big Sur was revealed at WWDC 2020, Apple's macOS 11 Big Sur is finally available as a general update.

As usual, this will be a free update for everyone with a compatible system. If you're not sure if your Mac or MacBook is compatible, check out the system requirements below.

When will macOS 11 Big Sur be available to download?

the macOS 11 Big Sur update is available for download now through your Mac's System Preferences menu, you can download it through your Mac's App Store, or through Apple's website

macOS 11 Big Sur system requirements

If you want to download and install macOS 11, you're going to want to make sure your Mac is actually able to run it. And, unfortunately macOS system requirements have gone up.

We went ahead and listed the macOS Big Sur-compatible Mac systems down below. 

  • 12-inch MacBook (2015 and later)
  • MacBook Air (2013 and later)
  • MacBook Pro (Late 2013 and later)
  • Mac mini (2014 and later)
  • iMac (2014 and later)
  • iMac Pro (all models)
  • Mac Pro (2013 and later)

macOS 11 Big Sur name

This time around, Apple chose Big Sur to symbolize this release of macOS. Much like the unincorporated coastal area in Northern California, this new macOS is supposed to deliver "unmatched levels of power and beauty."

MacBook Air 2019

We expect macOS 11 Big Sur to bring changes to all sorts of Mac computers. (Image credit: Future)

macOS 11 Big Sur features

Safari is the unsung hero of macOS, and some new improvements have made it even faster – now 50% faster than Chrome, according to Apple – along with even more privacy improvements and better battery consumption. But, that's not all. This is supposedly the biggest update the browser has received since it was first introduced. 

This new version of Safari will bring a host of new features to the table including Intelligent Tracking that can give you a Privacy Report on each website you visit, Save Passwords to track your passwords and make sure they haven't been compromised, Extensions support for WebExtensions API and a new Extensions category in the App Store, and native translation capabilities.

One cool thing here is that the Home Page will now be extremely customizable so you can change the background image and add/edit sections.

Messages improvements
Messages on macOS has been behind iOS for a while (and kind of still is), but now you can use Pinned Messages, Memoji and the Groups Enhancements that will come with the iOS 14, which is a nice touch. Basically, Messages for Mac will also bring many of the features that its iOS 14 and iPad OS 14 versions will have. It'll also feature a more powerful search, a redesigned photo picker and new messages special effects.

AirPods improvements
On top of some pretty cool Spatial Audio support for the AirPods Pro, a pretty major improvement for AirPods support on macOS is here. Rather than fiddling with your Bluetooth settings when you want to use your AirPods with your Mac, they will automatically switch to your Mac when you start using it. AirPods will now seamlessly and intuitively switch between devices without you doing anything.

Sidebar in Mail and Photos
The Apple Mail and Photo apps have been out of date for a while now, but Apple has brought new designs to a lot of the biggest Mac Apps, with the most notable ones being the new sidebars in Mail and Photos. The Photos app will have the same look, feel and features as its iOS 14 version.

Control Center on Mac
One of the best things about iOS is the super convenient Control Center that lets you change settings at a glance. macOS Big Sur brings that to the Mac, and it's easily accessible in the Menu Bar, so that you can easily change settings without digging through the preferences app. 

Widgets in the notifications app
Just like iOS 14, macOS 11 Big Sur is getting widgets in the notifications menu, which will make it easier to get important information at a glance, with easy to read interfaces. These widgets can be customized according to your needs and preference.

Mac Catalyst
One of the biggest headline features of macOS Mojave was that it brought some big-name iOS apps to the Mac. However, through Mac Catalyst, new APIs and tools will help app developers bring more iOS apps over to the Mac operating system. Through these tools, you'll get features like resizable windows and keyboard tools, which will make them feel like Mac Apps, rather than iPhone apps

Mac on ARM

After so many rumors, it's finally happened. Apple has finally announced that Macs will be transitioning to Apple-designed silicon, similar to what we've seen with every other device in its lineup. 

However, this isn't quite the death knell for Intel that some might think it is. Tim Cook said during the WWDC keynote that there are several Intel-based devices still in the works at Apple, and that the Cupertino behemoth is "very excited" about them. 

Still, this is probably the biggest change to come to Macs in years, as it will allow all iPhone and iPad apps to work natively on Macs for the first time. Plus, thanks to Mac Catalyst, and Rosetta 2, which will translate the source code of all Mac Apps, every Mac App will be able to run on the new ARM-based Macs. 

Michelle Rae Uy

Michelle Rae Uy is the former Computing Reviews and Buying Guides Editor at TechRadar. She's a Los Angeles-based tech, travel and lifestyle writer covering a wide range of topics, from computing to the latest in green commutes to the best hiking trails. She's an ambivert who enjoys communing with nature and traveling for months at a time just as much as watching movies and playing sim games at home. That also means that she has a lot more avenues to explore in terms of understanding how tech can improve the different aspects of our lives.