I’m generally happy enough with these changes, but I think it’s definitely a matter of personal preference. Perhaps the most inconvenient thing for me is that the toolbar buttons are just floating symbols, as you can see on iOS now. There is no “border” to indicate where to click, but there is a gray shadow showing the selected item when hovering over it. Most importantly, these visual changes don’t change the basic Mac experience.
The control center is great, but the notification center takes action.
That said, Control Center represents a significant change in how you manage your Mac. Just like iOS, the Control Center in macOS puts commonly used settings (e.g. WiFi, Bluetooth, Do Not Disturb) into one place. To see everything, click on the little “slider” icon in the menu bar near the clock.
Previously, settings like Bluetooth and WiFi were placed directly into the menu bar for easy access, but with too many of these buttons the menu bar quickly got complicated. You can now select items you want to access with one click and place them on the menu bar. The rest can be found in the control center. This means that you can see only what you want to see, like battery life and clock, but settings that you don’t adjust often (WiFi and Bluetooth, etc.) are hidden but easily accessible.
The notification center is still in a window that slides on the right side of the screen, but now it’s one space for widgets and notifications. At first, both seemed to be lacking. However, if you have a lot of notifications to take a closer look at, you can go through all of them by hitting the “More” button. The rest of the time, the widgets are more accessible than ever before. As in iOS 14, Apple’s own widgets are now available in several sizes. Third-party widgets are not available in the Big Sur beta (at least at the time of this writing), but we are hoping how other apps will take advantage of the much improved widget system.
Unfortunately, the notification itself needs some improvement. It’s mostly because it’s not always clear how to erase it. I can get an X that can be removed by hovering over some notifications, but there is a bug. Sometimes X appears and disappears randomly when you mouse over it, and sometimes it doesn’t appear at all. These are the types of bugs that can be resolved prior to release, but are a bit disappointing now.
Safari’s details about tracking protection are interesting, but impractical.
As usual, Apple promises a number of performance improvements and new features for Safari. It’s as fast as they say, or I still can’t determine if the battery life improvement is real. But one thing I’m very grateful for is the privacy report. Next to the URL bar is a small shield symbol that allows you to click on the web browsing tracker that Safari has detected on the page. Safari Built-in tracking protection It’s been a few years now, but that information is now much better visible.
The privacy tracking dropdown can expand to a full view of everything related to the tracker that Safari blocks. It shows the number of trackers blocked in the last 30 days, the percentage of sites visited using the tracker, the trackers you contacted the most, and the trackers of all the sites you visited. It’s more information than most people need, but the transparency is pretty good, especially when this information is too hard to find. On the other hand, it’s not terribly actionable, and it provides more detailed information on what Safari is doing to protect your privacy online.
The messages should finally be equivalent to the iOS app, but it’s hard to say yet.
Messages has become one of Apple’s killer apps and one of the best reasons to have multiple devices in the Apple ecosystem. So, Messages may be one of the most important apps on Mac for many, but it lags a bit behind iOS apps over the years. Between Big Sur and iOS 14, Messages is getting some awesome upgrades that require resetting the Mac and iOS versions to functional parity.
This means you can send messages with effects like confetti and balloons, and you’ll also have access to Memoji stickers and one-click GIF search. What’s more useful are things like the ability to pin conversations at the top of the app, improved search, inline replies, and mentions. Unfortunately, some of the most useful things like replies and mentions that I couldn’t really test are because there aren’t many people running beta software to exchange messages. But there is no doubt that the messaging situation on the Mac is improving this year. Fixed conversations, message reactions, and easy GIF search are already made better with messages in Big Sur.