MacOS Big Sur: How to use all the new features in Messages, Maps, Safari and more

MacOS Big Sur brings major updates to the Apple operating system. Here's how to use them now that you can download Big Sur, or if you got a new Mac for the holidays.

Alison DeNisco Rayome Managing Editor
Managing Editor Alison DeNisco Rayome joined CNET in 2019, and is a member of the Home team. She is a co-lead of the CNET Tips and We Do the Math series, and manages the Home Tips series, testing out new hacks for cooking, cleaning and tinkering with all of the gadgets and appliances in your house. Alison was previously an editor at TechRepublic.
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Alison DeNisco Rayome
4 min read

Check out all of the best new features in MacOS Big Sur, now available to download.


Apple's latest Mac operating system, MacOS Big Sur, is now available for download. The new OS, also called MacOS 11, is full of new and redesigned features that make for a better experience, including updates to Safari, Messages and Maps. 

Big Sur is also the first version of the OS to run on Apple's new Macs with the in-house M1 silicon chip, as well as its older Intel-based machines. If you do purchase a new MacBook Pro, MacBook Air or Mac Mini with the M1 chip, MacOS Big Sur is optimized to run on these machines. Apps will run faster and more smoothly, Apple executives said during a virtual event on Nov. 10, and you'll also see increased device security. 

Even if you aren't planning to upgrade to a new Mac, Big Sur still has a lot to offer on your current system, too. 

Want to get Big Sur now? We've got instructions on how to download MacOS Big Sur, and which Macs you can run it on, but take note: Some users are reporting slow download times and crashes.

Here are five parts of MacOS Big Sur with new features you'll want to check out when you do make the upgrade, and how you'll use them. 

Watch this: MacOS Big Sur: Check out these 5 great new features now



What's new:Perhaps the biggest upgrade in MacOS Big Sur comes in Apple's Safari web browser. Apple said that this is the biggest update to Safari since its launch in 2003. The revamped browser will load the websites you visit most often faster, and have better tab management capabilities. You'll also find improved privacy features, including a privacy report button that lets you see how websites track your data and monitor if any of your passwords were compromised in a security breach

A new App Store category for Safari extensions will let you customize which sites and times each extension is used, if you don't want it running all the time. And a customizable Safari start page will let you pick from a curated group of wallpapers or use one of your own photos. You can also use it to translate languages from seven different languages with a built-in feature. 

How you'll use it: Open the Safari browser the same way you did before. Where you go next depends on what you want to do: If you scroll to a website in another language, you'll be able to hit a button to translate it. If you have several tabs open, you'll see the website favicons by default so you can spot the one you want faster. Preview the content in a tab by hovering over it, and click to delete all tabs to the right of one tab. Tap the privacy report button to see what data is being collected on the site you're browsing.



What's new:The new Messages app in MacOS Big Sur includes ways to pin conversations (similar to a feature in the new iOS 14), options to better wrangle group messages, a redesigned search function and new options for designing Memoji and using message effects. 

How you'll use it: Pin important conversations to the top of the app for faster access. Direct-message one person in a group and thread messages within a group, to keep those big chats under control. Type someone's name out in the group to tag them directly in the conversation. You can choose to only be notified of new messages in the group when your name is mentioned. Organize your search results by links, photos or matching terms. Add message effects like balloons and confetti, and create and customize your Memoji on the Mac. 



What's new:The new Maps app in Big Sur includes more options to help you explore new places and share what you find, see detailed indoor maps of major airports and shopping centers, see a 360-degree view of a destination and use EV routing. 

How you'll use it: Explore an area with Guides from trusted resources, or create your own, marking your favorite restaurants, parks and vacation spots to create a Guide that you can share with friends and family. Get a 360-degree view of a destination with a feature called Look Around. See detailed indoor maps of major airports and shopping centers. If you have an electric car or scooter, use EV routing, which will take factors like charging stations, weather, elevation and your electric vehicle's current charge level into account on your route. 



What's new:Like iOS 14 and iPadOS 14, MacOS Big Sur brings widgets to your home screen. Widgets are large, dynamic icons that display live app information, like the weather or your daily step count. 

How you'll use it: Instead of opening weather, calendar or fitness tracking apps, use widgets to see an overview of their core information displayed in a live feed on your home screen. Display different widgets at different times of day, so you see the weather in the morning and the news in the afternoon, for example. Create widgets in small, medium or large sizes. 

iPhone and iPad apps 


What's new:If you buy one of Apple's upcoming Macs that are powered by the company's new Apple silicon chips, your computer will be able to natively run iPhone and iPad apps. 

How you'll use it: Go to the Mac App Store to install the new apps. Many iOS apps will be able to run alongside MacOS apps. If you've already bought an app on iOS, you won't need to buy it again for MacOS -- you'll just download it there, too. 

For more, check out how to download MacOS Big Sur, and which Macs are compatible with MacOS Big Sur.

Watch this: Apple's new M1 chip engineered for MacOS Big Sur