Apple to Release MacOS 11 Big Sur on Nov. 12

Apple is set to release macOS 11, dubbed Big Sur, on November 12. So, which Macs will be able to run macOS 11? What new features can we expect from the upgrade, and how will Big Sur's performance differ between an older Mac and a 2020 model powered by Apple's own M1 chip? Let's find out.

Related: Should You Buy a 2020 Mac? Apple’s New M1 Processor Is a Gamble

MacOS 11: Who Can Download Big Sur & What Features Can We Expect?

Big Sur is the first OS that's compatible with Apple's new in-house silicon chip for the Mac, the M1. But what does Big Sur have to offer for people running the software on older Macs? Let's go over who can download Big Sur, what features to expect, and the differences those of us with older vs. newer Macs may experience. 

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Which Macs Can Download MacOS 11.0, Big Sur?

*A Note for Older Mac Owners*

First things first, even if you don't plan on purchasing a new Mac this year, you'll still get a whole lot out of Big Sur. That being said, many people like to wait a few weeks before updating to the new macOS. They may wait to make sure there aren't any bugs, or they might not feel ready to acclimate to the new look and features yet. If this sounds like you, you may want to wait for macOS 11.0.1 to become available before you take the plunge.  

The new version of macOS will be compatible with:

  • MacBook, 2015 and later
  • MacBook Air, 2013 and later
  • MacBook Pro, late 2013 and later
  • Mac Mini, 2014 and later
  • iMac, 2014 and later
  • All models of iMac Pro, 2017 or later
  • Mac Pro, 2013 and later

What Features Set MacOS Big Sur Apart?

big sur features

We learned a lot about Big Sur's features during the WWDC Keynote, but today, Apple revealed even more about the latest iteration of macOS. Apple's "bold new design" for Mac software will look familiar to iPhone and iPad users because it's borrowed heavily from iOS. This update creates a consistent look across Apple devices; Big Sur's icons and symbols now match those found in iOS. Features are starting to match up, too; the Notification Center now includes redesigned widgets with size options, and the Menu bar is now customizable and includes, for the first time, a Control Center. Here are more improvements to look forward to with Big Sur:

Messages for Mac

The Messages app for Mac now includes the ability to design and use Memoji, as well as effects like balloons, confetti, and more. Other useful updates include a redesigned search feature for images, terms, and photos, and the ability to add media with a photo picker. Mac users can now pin important conversations to the top of the Messages list, and use group messaging features like inline replies, directed messages, plus photo and emoji sharing that includes the whole group.  

Safari Refresh

According to Apple, Big Sur represents the biggest refresh the Safari browser has seen since its debut in 2003. Safari is now faster and more battery efficient than ever before. More tabs now show onscreen, and users can preview open pages by hovering over their corresponding tabs. Users can also customize their Safari Start pages with custom backgrounds and the information they use most, such as iCloud tabs, their Reading Lists, and more. 

Safari has also improved the Privacy Report. In the past, Safari users could view when the browser had blocked websites from tracking their activity. Now, Safari offers data breach password monitoring and lets users control even more features, including which websites a Safari extension is allowed to work with. 

New Tools for Mac Maps

MacOS Big Sur brings Maps updates familiar to those of us who have updated to iOS 14 and iPadOS 14. Guides are now available on the Mac. Guides are lists of destinations in a given city that you can share with family and friends (great for giving recommendations or creating a shared itinerary). The Look Around feature now extends to Mac and offers a 360-degree view of cities and landmarks around the world. Mac users can now plan electric vehicle routes and bike trips in Maps, as well, and share these routes to their iPhone and iPad.

Privacy Improvements

Apple has long been know for protecting customer privacy, and macOS 11.0 offers even more privacy protection features. The Mac App Store now lets prospective buyers know whether each app will collect contact information, location, or usage data, and whether or not that data will be shared with third parties.

Why Is the M1 Chip Special?  

the new m1 silicon chip from apple

The new M1 chip is the most powerful Apple has yet created, and the first designed specifically for the Mac. In the past, Macs included separate chips for the CPU, I/O (input and output), security, and other needs. The M1 chip integrates these functions, which allows for better power efficiency, performance, and speed. These integrated components also allow for unified memory architecture, meaning the components can access the same data from the same source, rather than copying it between multiple locations.

Apple claims that these improvements make for up to 3.5 times faster CPU performance, up to six times faster GPU performance, and up to 15 times faster machine learning, and battery life up to two times longer as compared to previous generation Macs. Johny Srouji, Apple’s senior vice president of Hardware Technologies sums it up, “when it comes to low-power silicon, M1 has the world’s fastest CPU core, the world’s fastest integrated graphics in a personal computer, and the amazing machine learning performance of the Apple Neural Engine. With its unique combination of remarkable performance, powerful features, and incredible efficiency, M1 is by far the best chip we’ve ever created.” 

unified memory architecture of m1 tip

How Will the M1 Chip Work with macOS Big Sur?

Apple's silicon chip for Mac integrates with Big Sur to enable features Mac users haven't experienced before. For example, your new Mac will instantly wake from sleep, just like your iPhone and iPad do.

System animations will be "buttery smooth," and the Safari browser will run Javascript nearly 1.5 times faster, and 1.9 times more responsively. Another big boost to M1 Mac users, Big Sur on M1 is able to switch between using high-performance cores for more demanding apps and tasks, such as editing raw video footage and rendering 3D animations, back to high-efficiency cores for easier tasks, thus saving battery life. 

M1 & App Compatibility 

Apple has optimized all of its native apps for the M1 chip, including Keynote, Pages, Garage Band, iMovie, Final Cut Pro, and more. This allows for more speed, effects, and plugins than ever before. You'll also be able to run iPhone and iPad apps on Macs with M1 processors. Compatibility for third-party apps is a different story, however. App developers are now being asked to develop and offer what Apple is calling Universal apps that can run on both the M1 silicon ship as well as the old Intel processors. This means that by default, applications designed for Intel processors will not function on the M1 processor without translation. The Adobe suite will be available as a Universal app next month, and Photoshop is headed our way next year. For apps that aren't Universal, Apple does offer a tool called Rosetta II, which is supposed to allow Intel-based software to run on the M1. This may be a bit of an oversell, however, as the Apple developer site states that "Rosetta 2 is not a substitute for creating a native version of your app."

M1 & Big Sur Security Features

The M1 chip has hardware dedicated to data protection that iPhone users have long enjoyed. These protect your login password and enables file-level encryption. Some of the benefits include hardware-verified secure boot, meaning that each step in the boot sequence is running secure software, while automatic high-performance encryption for all files keeps the data on your Mac private.

The Big Sur & M1 Chip Takeaway

Apple's latest macOS offers a redesign and updated features that make me look forward to updating my MacBook. But, since I won't be getting a new Mac this year, I won't be able to take advantage of the hardware/software interactions between macOS 11 and the M1 chip. In spite of this, I'm excited for the improvements in security, the refreshed look, and particularly the new Safari features that Big Sur offers. As well, I'll be on the lookout for Universal apps, so I can be sure my app purchases will be useful across all my Apple devices for years to come.

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Author Details

Leanne Hays's picture

Author Details

Leanne Hays

Leanne Hays has over a dozen years of experience writing for online publications. As a Feature Writer for iPhone Life, she has authored hundreds of how-to, Apple news, and gear review articles, as well as a comprehensive Photos App guide. Leanne holds degrees in education and science and loves troubleshooting and repair. This combination makes her a perfect fit as manager of our Ask an Expert service, which helps iPhone Life Insiders with Apple hardware and software issues.
In off-work hours, Leanne is a mother of two, homesteader, audiobook fanatic, musician, and learning enthusiast.