In comparison: macOS Big Sur vs. macOS Catalina

The new Mac operating system macOS 11.0 Big Sur will appear soon. But what changes does it bring compared to macOS 10.15 Catalina? Where are known elements improved and where do you have to get used to it completely? I will answer these and other questions for you in this guide. In addition to the comparison between macOS Big Sur and macOS Catalina, you will also find information on compatibility and information on new features in individual apps. You can find more in mine Apple WWDC 2020 summary.

When comparing macOS 10.15 Catalina and macOS 11.0 Big Sur for the Apple Mac, there are great differences. In addition to improvements in the system and apps, there are also new sounds and functions. Here is a comprehensive overview.
When comparing macOS 10.15 Catalina and macOS 11.0 Big Sur for the Apple Mac, there are great differences. In addition to improvements in the system and apps, there are also new sounds and functions. Here is a comprehensive overview.

These Apple Mac models are compatible with Big Sur / Catalina

In the following table you will find the computers from Apple that are compatible with the two operating systems compared. These include different models and vintages of Mac, iMac, MacBook, Mac mini and the Pro and Air variants. At the end of the two lists you will find a link to the corresponding guide, in which I have summarized further information and details.

Compatible with Big Sur Compatible with Catalina
  • MacBook 2015 and newer
  • MacBook Pro late 2013 and newer
  • MacBook Air 2013 and newer
  • iMac 2014 and newer
  • iMac Pro 2017 and newer
  • Mac Pro 2013 and newer
  • Mac mini 2014 and newer
  • Guide
  • MacBook 2015 and newer
  • MacBook Pro mid 2012 and newer
  • MacBook Air mid 2012 and newer
  • iMac late 2012 and newer
  • iMac Pro 2017 and newer
  • Mac Pro 2013 and newer
  • Mac mini late 2012 and newer
  • Guide

The Big Sur and Catalina user interface

The flagship of a user-tailored system like macOS is of course the interface. The optics and their (sometimes more, sometimes less) self-explanatory functions invite you to make the most of your time on the Mac. But how does Big Sur's user interface change compared to Catalina? Here I have compiled a few important innovations for you:

  • The whole look has been made lighter and clearer and also more adapted to iOS and iPadOS
  • Many native apps have sidebars and narrower toolbars with simpler icons
  • The dock has rounded corners and similarly shaped app symbols (tiles with rounded corners) so that everything looks more uniform
  • The app icons on the dock are shown more spatially, including with new shades
  • With “Mac Catalyst” iPad apps can be better placed and controlled on the Apple computer

In this Video you can find a comparison of the current and the new app icons that are displayed on the dock:

Notifications and widgets are better than in Catalina

If you click on the menu symbol at the top right under macOS 10.15 Catalina or in earlier versions of the Mac operating system, you can choose between “Today” and “Messages” in the sidebar that appears. This informative sidebar is summarized and simplified as of macOS 11.0 Big Sur. For example, notifications are grouped by apps. In addition, widgets such as weather, world clock, calendar and Co. are displayed in the same column. Switching back and forth is then no longer necessary.

macOS Big Sur gets a control center 

The control center, which is known from the iPad or iPhone, will also come to compatible Mac models with macOS 11.0 Big Sur. In addition to the individual symbols on the macOS menu bar, functions such as WLAN, Bluetooth, AirDrop, display brightness, volume, media playback, etc. control. If an element is required more frequently, it can simply be dragged into the menu bar. This makes controlling the Mac and the system even easier.

The Mac App Store on macOS 11.0 Big Sur

One of the biggest innovations in the App Store for the Apple Mac will be the display of data protection information in the app descriptions. For each app, it is shown which data or data types are collected during installation or use. This is important, for example, if you don't want to use apps that access your location. Corresponding notices are also displayed with regard to financial information (e.g. for in-app purchases).

Safari in comparison: Big Sur vs. Catalina

In addition to the user interface and the operation of the Mac with native solutions, some apps for the Mac have also been updated. There are major innovations, for example, in Apple's own Safari web browser. With the “Privacy Report” there is a new tool for more data protection. In addition, performance has been increased and energy consumption has been reduced at the same time. The start page that appears when you open Safari can also be much more individualized from macOS Big Sur. Not only can you set your own background image, browser elements such as a data protection report, a bookmark list or iCloud elements can also be added.

But that's not all; continue with the safari tabs. If you hover over a tab with the mouse cursor, a preview of the corresponding website is displayed. So even with many tabs that are densely packed, you can find exactly the page you need. There is also a native function for translations. Initially, web pages can be translated into seven different languages ​​directly in the Safari browser. It also checks whether passwords saved for pages have been stolen and whether cross-site trackers are used for advertising.

In the comparison of macOS Big Sur vs. macOS Catalina, the Safari web browser does much better, as it promises more data security and more convenient use.

Maps app is more extensive on macOS 11.0

While “maps” on Apple mobile devices have become more and more an all-rounder for navigation, travel planning and discovery under iOS and iPadOS, there have been no major innovations for the Mac version so far. That should change with the jump from Catalina to Big Sur. Favorites can now be saved and listed, guides can be created, indoor maps of buildings can be viewed and Look Around is also used under macOS. If friends, acquaintances or family members have approved their position, they can also be followed on the Mac. In addition, bike functions are available from macOS Big Sur.

News Comparing: Big Sur vs. Catalina

The news app has also been relaunched for macOS Big Sur and brings new functions and possibilities with the upcoming Mac operating system. On the way to becoming a fully-fledged messenger, the program is given the opportunity to conduct group chats, for example. Chats can also be pinned so they don't get lost. A search function is also added for better use. Effects, photo stickers and memojis are added for chatting. GIFs can also be sent. This brings the news app on the Mac closer to its counterparts on the iPhone.

More improvements from Catalina to Big Sur

  • Crab provides more answers and also the ability to display search results from the Internet if it can answer a question.
  • Nachdem die Spotlight-Search has always received an update in the previous version, it is now even faster with Big Sur. In addition, the search results should be presented more clearly and easier to search. A preview function allows files, documents and websites to be viewed before they are opened.
  • After iTunes was crushed with macOS 10.15 Catalina, the successors get Music and Podcasts new features with macOS 11.0 Big Sur. For example, both receive a “For you” area with individualized recommendations. The "Up Next" feature makes listening to successive podcast episodes easier. 
  • With Catalina were on the Mac Voice memos introduced. From Big Sur on, these can be better organized, for example in (intelligent) folders. In addition, a feature for removing reverb and ambient noise has been added to the app. Important recordings can also be marked as favorites.
  • The system sounds have been revised so that some of the warning, notification and message tones that have been known for many macOS versions sound different from macOS 11.0 onwards. In the following videos you will find a comparison of individual tones and chimes.
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In the Sir Apfelot Blog you will find advice, instructions and reviews on Apple products such as the iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, AirPods, iMac, Mac Pro, Mac Mini and Mac Studio.