Tuesday, June 23, 2020

macOS 11.0 Big Sur Announced

Apple (also: TidBITS, MacRumors, MacStories, Mr. Macintosh, Hacker News):

macOS Big Sur introduces a beautiful redesign that is entirely new yet instantly familiar. Safari is packed with new features, including a customizable start page, elegantly designed and more powerful tabs, quick and easy translation, and a new Privacy Report. The updated Messages app lets Mac users send and receive more personal and expressive messages, and easily keep track of and interact within group messages. Maps also offers an all-new experience with immersive features for exploring and navigating the world.


macOS Big Sur delivers a spacious new design that makes navigation easier, while putting more controls at users’ fingertips. Everything from the curvature of window corners to the palette of colors and materials has been refined, and new features provide even more information and power. Icons in the Dock have been thoughtfully designed to be more consistent with icons across the Apple ecosystem while retaining their Mac personality. Buttons and controls appear when needed, and recede when they’re not. The entire experience feels more focused, fresh, and familiar, reducing visual complexity and bringing users’ content front and center.

See also: Human Interface Guidelines (also: Hacker News).

Rui Carmo:

The new look for macOS makes it seem like Catalyst is the new design language, and it makes me sad because I actually like the way macOS looks now, and the tradition behind some of it–after all, a few of those icons have been around (like me, really) since the NeXT days.

Benedikt Terhechte:

Nobdy can complain that Catalyst doesn’t look like macOS if macOS doesn’t look like macOS

I prefer the old, more detailed and colorful toolbar buttons to the iOS 7 style. However, given that Apple is switching to symbols, I think I like the way Big Sur fully commits to this style, removing chrome so that the symbols themselves can be larger and stand out more. The main issues for me are that much of the text is difficult to read, the increased spacing effectively makes my displays smaller, and having rollover effects everywhere is distracting. Presumably, the spacing is because future Macs will have touch screens, but why compromise the desktop experience for that when iPads already exist? And, as a developer, it is annoying that the metrics for everything are changing.

Jonathan Deutsch:

I’d love a rationale for the War on Information Density. As far as I can tell it is only designer whimsy.

My guess is that it’s so iOS apps work better on future touch-screen Macs and don’t look out of place.


I am not a big fan of the continued slaughter of available-space-for-the-actual-title in the title bar, or similarly of cleanly draggable areas.


Dear god, the just barely opaque menu bar is back, and it’s just as horribly unreadable as a few years ago. Do we really need to keep doing this?

John Siracusa:

I hope everyone else is also busy filing Radars (sorry, “Feedbacks”) about the small, low-contrast text used in many places in Big Sur.

Like I said on @atpfm, Accessibility settings can help, but the defaults should be comfortable for MOST people. These defaults miss that mark.

Ben Thompson (Hacker News):

What is striking about macOS 11.0 is the degree to which is feels more like a son of iOS than the sibling that Mac OS X was[…]

Juli Clover:

macOS Big Sur does away with the “Energy Saver” section of System Preferences, replacing it with a new “Battery” section that expands the battery reporting capabilities of the Mac.

Juli Clover:

macOS Big Sur, the newest version of Apple’s operating system designed for Macs, brings back the classic startup chime that was eliminated from the MacBook lineup in 2016.

Joe Rossignol:

Apple has deprecated its long-standing Network Utility app in macOS Big Sur, with the app no longer functioning in the first developer beta.


Update (2020-07-27): Khaos Tian:

The floating Dock is unexpectedly distracting due to a tiny part of the wallpaper being visible at the bottom

Update (2020-07-30): Max Seelemann:

Catalyst Messages on Big Sur on a non-retina screen is in a pitiful state as of today. Messages are blurry, buttons are blurry, everything is blurry.

My hopes this gets fixed are slim. Progress bars have been blurry on non-retina for at least two major releases.

Update (2020-08-19): Riccardo Mori:

Apple really needs to rethink icon spacing in Big Sur’s menubar. This is how it looks, in the Finder (which has few and short menu commands), on a retina 13-inch display. And consider I only have iStat Menus as third-party addition on the menubar.

Update (2020-09-07): Baz:

Notifications on macOS BS are an absolute disaster: complicated to know what to do, hidden functionality, these stupid drop downs instead of buttons. How did macOS get to this?

Update (2020-09-28): Corbin Dunn:

I keep hoping the next macOS 11 beta will fix basic UI consistency issues, but they still are present. All these inactive sidebars all have different font sizes and colors. I logged this in the first beta.

I’m guessing the problem is that there isn’t any single person responsible for ensuring the consistency happens as a whole. I’d hope AppKit would take care of it, but I have a feeling a lot of this UI is custom, and then through News into the mix with UIKit and you get a mess.

10 Comments RSS · Twitter

First impression: the redesign has a nice overall look. I feel like macOS has been drained of character in the last few years, and the new design seems more cohesive and little bit more cheerful.

But on the details:
I hate Apple's extended love affair with translucency. That menubar in particular... It's been years and designers still haven't learned that a core requirement is for things to be legible?

A little sad to see the new rectangular-conforming app icons. Compared to my current dock, they've lost a lot of character. I'm getting ready to see a lot more boring icon-on-white-background icons. Exemplified by a lot of Apple's own apps featured in their screenshots.

I continue to mourn the elimination of buttons that look like buttons / clear distinction between interactive controls vs labels.

Decreased info density is a real shame. They sell it as "easier to read", but simultaneously put light text on translucent backgrounds, so I'm calling BS on that justification.

Two off-topic observations:
- The macOS marketing page still resorts to scrolljacking, and performance is jerky on a recent MacBook Air. Ugh.
- I hope that battery icon in the Battery prefpane is a beta placeholder. Looks like someone turned back the clock to 90s gradients.

Hang on, if they removed Energy Saver and replace it with Battery, what happens on a desktop Mac? Every setting in Energy Saver I have on my desktop has a useful meaning currently, so I am confused - are they still there even if you don't have a battery, or are they elsewhere?

"As far as I can tell it is only designer whimsy."

Apple has completely lost their OCD attention to detail. Sometimes I don't like the changes because they're different, but I can see a legit rationale even if I don't agree. However lots of UI decisions in the past few years just seem totally random, I can't see any justifiable reason for making the changes other than "designer whimsy".

Things have changed so drastically on the Mac in the past 3 years that it's no mistake. Someone is dictating and approving these decisions. I haven't installed macOS BS yet, but looking at the screenshots make me want to scream.

Why are the drop-downs from the menubar now totally separated from the parent menu item? They're deliberately look floating now, except you can't actually click and drag to "tear off" the menu and make it static (that would be a cool feature to bring back... sigh).

What would be the justification for making the menus so weird? I can't think of how anyone actually identified a problem in the way OS X has been doing menus for decades and said "the best way to improve it is to add curves to the top of menus, and offset them away from the menu bar." Is this just change for the sake of randomly messing with things that work fine?

And my god, those toolbar buttons!!! Can't even. Somebody actually picked that garish bright blue color to be the best default?

Didn't we get rid of Jony Ive???

2020 has been bad enough. Now OS X is dead?

Apple could probably address most of my complaints with the new Toolbar and Sidebar glyph icons if they just provided more ways to customize the colors. Let me use a colorpicker to select my own colors for each individual glyph on a per-app basis. I don't necessarily want whatever defaults the developer chooses, but I also wouldn't want to override every glyph in every app with whatever base color I select in System Prefs (I currently have purple set in Catalina and I'm glad I only see it in Menus and Highlighting -- I wouldn't want my Finder or Mail sidebar to be totally purple!)

That white-text-on-white-background menu bar is amazing. It's almost as if Apple was embarrassed of the fact that the menu bar is still there, and tried to make it as invisible as possible.

"Buttons and controls appear when needed, and recede when they're not." -C. Federighi

My 36 year love affair with the Mac will end in acrimony.

My gut reaction is that, just aesthetically speaking, I don’t like it. I did like the Yosemite-era look.

I haven’t played around with it myself, though, and the keynote was so jampacked (mostly in a good way, but also sometimes in being really hard to follow for this cranky old man in his 30s) that I feel like I only got a glimpse.

Information density is a real issue. I partially understand the trend towards minimalism and letting the content stand out. I think there is a real case to be made that our brains do a better job not being distracted by the UI chrome when the chrome is minimal. But we’ve also lost so many affordances. iPadOS multitasking is such a mess in part because of the refusal to do something as simple as a title bar with a few buttons that help the user split apps; instead relying on hidden and overloaded UI gestures which should only be reserved for shortcut use, not as the main, exclusive way.

Apple has deprecated its long-standing Network Utility app in macOS Big Sur, with the app no longer functioning in the first developer beta.

Is this a result of no longer available APIs, such as kernel extension deprecation? It was mostly just a front-end to a bunch of BSD tools, no? Seems like an opening for a third party.

Apple has completely lost their OCD attention to detail. Sometimes I don’t like the changes because they’re different, but I can see a legit rationale even if I don’t agree. However lots of UI decisions in the past few years just seem totally random, I can’t see any justifiable reason for making the changes other than “designer whimsy”.

Can’t you make that argument about most of the design decisions in Aqua?

Some of it was a net win (I still miss drawers, though they may have been too awkward, and I do think sheets were a nice idea), but for the most part, Platinum was more practical.

Big Sur has way too many disastrous "white on white" UI areas: that is, white controls on white background.

The entire UI looks like the designers were told: just make everything white no matter what - or you will all get fired. We want white. White white white. Don't think much - just make things white damn it!

Who cares that most of existing controls are not suitable to be on white background in any way. And therefore many of them become next to invisible, hard to distinguish between them, hard to understand their functionality and detect their boundaries.

Most important, things are WHITE. Because that's what OS is all about - white on white, everything must be white.

The changes in Big Sur bother my older eyes a lot. I use a non retina display so I think Apple ignores users like myself. Apple's developers are all probably using their Pro Displays so everything is made to look good on those. Like Leo said white on White is just bad, I can't use Safari anymore I have gone back to Chrome. I also went back to using my Windows 10 PC more since Big Sur. Everything is a bit larger or clearer maybe both. This is what you get when you have 20 something people doing what looks good in their perfect eyes on expensive super resolution screens.

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