Chapter 4

What’s New in macOS Big Sur?


Bullet Controlling your laptop from the Finder menu

Bullet Discovering widgets and Guides

Bullet Flexing new muscles in Safari and Messages

Bullet Keeping an eye on your MacBook’s battery

Have you upgraded to Big Sur from the previous version of macOS, Catalina? If so, you’ve opened the door to several new features, and this chapter was written especially for you. (And if you’re not rubbing your hands together with gleeful anticipation, you should be; I know I am.) Here, you’ll find descriptions of my favorite new features that ship with the latest version of macOS.

Note that some other new Big Sur features appear elsewhere in the book. The Listen Now feature introduced with Big Sur is covered within the Music chapter (Chapter 12), for example. The new features you find in this happy chapter, however, are what I consider to be the real standouts, so they’re showcased separately.

Let the fun begin!

Introducing the Control Center

If you own an iPhone or iPad, you’re already familiar with the oh-so-convenient Control Center. With a single downward swipe of your finger, you can use device features like your flashlight, timer, and camera, or turn your device into an Apple TV remote. You can even customize the Control Center on your iPhone or iPad by adding new controls, or removing controls that you don’t use.

Now Control Center has appeared on the macOS Finder menu, allowing you to easily toggle hardware features like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth off and on, or change your display brightness on the fly. You can also control applications like Music, pausing music or moving to the next track in your playlist. All this is available with a single click on the new Control Center icon on the Finder menu (as shown in Figure 4-1).

Snapshot of the new Control Center.

FIGURE 4-1: Things don’t get much easier than the new Control Center.

But wait, there’s more: The macOS Control Center can be customized, just like the version on your iOS devices! From the Dock & Menu Bar pane in System Preferences, you can choose to display the familiar Finder menu bar icons or move them to the Control Center, and you can hide controls that you don’t use.

The Return of the Widgets

If you remember the Dashboard feature included in earlier versions of Mac OS X and macOS, you’ll recall that widgets—simple applications designed for one function—could be added to your Desktop and displayed with a press of a key. (Popular widgets handled the display of stock prices, weather updates and such.) Apple removed the Dashboard function in macOS Catalina, but I’m happy to say that widgets have reappeared. This time, they’re available in the Big Sur Notification Center! Plus, widgets created for iOS 14 (the operating system on the latest iPhones and iPads) can be used within macOS, so you’ll have plenty of different “applets” to choose from in the future.

Your Guide to the Perfect Trip

Maps takes a welcome leap forward with the addition of Guides, which provide detailed information on places of interest around the world. Visiting New York City? Why not display a Guide covering recommended restaurants, or art galleries within an easy walk or drive? Plus, Guides are automatically updated with new content, so you’re never stuck with last year’s information! (Personally, I hate reading ancient history in guidebooks.) You can even create your own Guides and share them with friends and family—go ahead, blaze a trail and create your own personalized tour of your destination!

You can find details on using and creating Guides within Maps in Chapter 7.

Safari Covers New Ground

Apple continues to enhance Safari, the macOS web browser. macOS Big Sur adds a customizable Start Page, complete with a background image you choose and quick links that you specify to application features like your Reading List and Favorite browsing sites. Plus, powerful translation functionality has been added, allowing you to translate entire web pages between seven different languages with a single click. There’s also a new Privacy Report button on the Safari toolbar that displays tracking attempts made by the site you’re browsing, so you can keep a close eye on what information is being gathered.

Messages Adds Effects, Images, and … Pins?

It’s been a considerable wait since the last improvements to the Messages application, so the additions to Messages in macOS Big Sur are a welcome sight! The big news is the introduction of pinned conversations, in which you can specify favorite text exchanges and groups in Messages that should always remain at the top of your conversation list, thereby making them very easy to monitor, so they don’t get “lost” below other newer texts you’ve received. If you’re fond of adding images like memes and animated GIFs to your texts, you can use the new #images tag to see what’s trending, or search with a keyword for just the right graphic. Memoji icons that you create yourself — another carryover from the iOS world — have been improved with new customization features, and you can add new animated effects like balloons and lasers to those special messages that need to pop. Lasers!

Becoming One with Your Battery

Naturally, every MacBook owner has a vested interest in tracking battery usage, which is why I devote considerable space to battery management in this book. But how can you monitor the statistics on your battery? macOS Big Sur introduces a new System Preferences pane named Battery (shown in Figure 4-2) that provides you with usage data that you’ve never had before, allowing you to view your battery charge level and your activity for two time periods (the last 24 hours and the last 10 days). Additionally, the Battery pane is now home to all the settings that affect battery power, including the controls that used to appear in the Energy Saver pane in previous versions of macOS.

Snapshot of the Battery display, you can monitor how your MacBook is used.

FIGURE 4-2: With the Battery display, you can monitor how your MacBook is used.

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