Apple's macOS 11 Big Sur marks the end of OS X, not the Mac

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in Mac Software
Apple's slickly produced WWDC20 keynote didn't directly emphasize it, but the new macOS Big Sur that will ship to the public this fall is officially "macOS 11," marking an end to the twenty-year progression of "Mac OS X" branding. But don't worry, it's not the end of the Mac.

macOS 11
The fresh new macOS 11 Big Sur looks like a desktop of floating iPads

Turn it up to 11

Apple's first beta of macOS Big Sur was made available to developer program members with the version designation of "10.16," which is what one might expect from the successor to last year's Mac OS 10.15 Catalina. But Apple likes to switch things up and keep things interesting.

Big Sur beta
The Big Sur beta was originally called 10.16


In this case, the move to macOS 11 was a subtle reveal. Speaking from the hands-on area of the Steve Jobs Theater during the WWDC20 keynote, Apple's head of software Craig Federighi showed screenshots that indicated the new release was finally pushing past the big "X" that has defined the Mac experience for 20 years.

Apple's fresh 2020 update to its developer Human Interface Guidelines now consistently refers to Big Sur as "macOS 11," rather than being another incremented version of the "Mac OS X" brand that first shipped as a public beta in 2000 and as an initial "Mac OS X 10.0" public release in 2001.

Across the last two decades, Apple has released major new versions of its modern OS for the Mac at regular intervals. Since 2016, it has deemphasized the Roman numeral "X," shifting its marketing name to simply "macOS." It has also increasingly capitalized on its annually changing "code name" assigned to each release -- first big cats, then places in California -- relegating the actual version number increasingly out of prominent view.

The move beyond "X" to 11 may seem concerningly ominous, but it really just reflects a series of moves Apple has made to better align its work on the Mac desktop with its mobile platforms. After 14 years of iOS releases, we are now getting a simple, streamlined annual version number for the Mac as well.

The Mac isn't going away, it's catching up

A number of observers have suggested that Apple is losing its interest in the Mac platform, and fear that Apple is making plans to replace its 35-year-old, conventional computing platform with, effectively, a scaled-up version of iPadOS. They cite developments such as Catalyst, which helps developers bring their existing OS code to the Mac, or the new move to Apple Silicon Macs, which will enable future hardware to run iOS software without any modification.

Some have pointed to the new UI refinements in Big Sur that look like a modern departure from the traditional Mac appearance with its squared panels, rigid alignments, and more dramatic contrasting of dark monochrome regions. The default Big Sur desktop in the first beta makes the new, updated appearance took particularly radical due to its use of intense colors (below). Is this the end of the beloved Macintosh? Is it becoming "just a big iPod touch"?

Big Sur beta desktop
Change the default wallpaper (above) to the photo of California's Big Sur (top) and the whole thing looks less foreign and garish


I don't think so. Instead, I think the changes Apple is making to the Mac are in the right direction, even if they do touch that part of the brain that incites fear and concern simply because things are new, different, and slightly less familiar. There are some transition issues and rough edges--like the brand new Battery panel that replaces the confusing old mess of "Energy Saver"--but this is the first developer beta. Things are still in flux and changes are being hammered out.

Big Sur Battery panel
Did Apple hire Google's emoji team to draw up this weird condom battery?


Rather than being disgruntled that some things on the Mac are changing and -- horrors! -- reflecting the work Apple's already done for iPadOS, it's useful to look at things from the other direction. For years, the Mac has received less of Apple's attention and resources simply because the market opportunities afforded by iPhones and iPad were vastly larger.

Over the last decade, the work needed to deliver leading smartphone and tablet technology was urgent, while the Mac mostly just needed refinements to keep it comfortably competitive with commodity PCs and netbooks. Three years ago, Apple was consumed with reinventing iPhone X, and since then it has focused on differentiating and radically enhancing its "new" iPadOS platform.

Back to the Mac

The new Big Sur borrows a series of familiar, functional improvements from Apple's years of work that focused on iOS. One great example is the new Control Center, which brings the same clean, intuitive, configurable layout of quick settings to the Mac.

Control Center in Big Sur
Big Sur's new iOS-inspired Control Center is beautiful and brilliant


One of Apple's biggest efforts in last year's macOS Catalina was to break up its monolithic iTunes into a series of modern, streamlined apps, reflecting how things worked under iOS. In our review of Catalina, one of the problems we noted was the increasing lack of visual and user interface consistency across its various bundled apps, a gap that kept growing as batches of new apps with their own fresh interface style erupted with each new release.

Certain older apps looked like they were stuck in different points of the past because they literally were. As Apple's internal development tools kept changing over the years, some of the oldest code remained difficult to modernize or harmonize with the rest of the system.

Instead of spending the last couple years working to bring various old macOS components up to date with the Mojave appearance, Apple instead began charting out a much bolder and material leap: a jump to its own Apple Silicon at the lowest layer of the stack, as well as a radical new approach to building high-level appearance and behavior in the new Swift UI. In tandem, Apple also introduced Catalyst as a way to bring existing iOS code to the Mac.

All three represent huge investments in enhancing the Mac platform and preparing it for the future. They expand the library of software that Macs can run while transferring and adapting some of the tremendously valuable UI work already performed for mobile devices to desktop Mac systems tuned to handle larger and more complex tasks. These changes actually make the Mac more commercially relevant and a stronger platform.

Critics have fixated on niggling appearance issues in the initial Catalyst apps and worried that the cherished Mac look and feel was going away. The truth is: it is. The Mac is increasingly modernizing, leveraging new, more flexible code that supports features ranging from accessibility and internationalization to Dark Mode. Mac stalwarts might be tempted to blame the iPad or iOS, but the real force for change is Swift UI, Catalyst, Symbols, and other modern UI techniques and technology that simply appeared on iPad and iPhone first because they were receiving the most attention from Apple.

Apple Music Big Sur
Big Sur borrows tech from iOS, such as Symbols, to enhance the Mac and make it more consistent


It's fine to critically examine the visual changes Apple is introducing in Big Sur, but consider evaluating these as inherently positive changes that are not yet finalized. The impact of Big Sur changes may seem more radical simply because they are more consistently applied across the entire macOS than in previous releases. That in itself indicates that rather than just being an arbitrary "new look" for new apps, the changes are a more fundamental rethinking of how to keep software modern and maintainable, and therefore more consistent.

At WWDC20, Apple has devoted a lot of work to show developers how they can leverage the latest tools, particularly Swift UI, to create clean app interfaces that are uncluttered, consistent, and intuitive to use, while also supporting modern functionality and being prepared to adapt to future OS features as they are delivered.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 40
    Apple said countless times.. the MacOS would never be touch-based. What we will have soon is a touch-based OS rebranded Mac. and this is not bad, from a financial and technological point of view it is not only understandable but actually very exciting. just what we will have is iOS's and iDevices take of an old paradigm we once called Macintosh. the Mac started with, and much because, of the mouse. as we shift paradigm to touch, the Mac as it has been since its inception is simply gone. What we have coming technically is better than anything Apple has done without a doubt, and perhaps it makes sense to sacrifice the Mac era for this new profitable and exciting iOS based platform. Steve Jobs said it himself, platforms peak and die. so what remains of the Mac from where i stand is essentially the name..
    (big issue might be the likely end of non App Store installs and the big saas push, but this another issue).

    By the end of this transition, we will have hyper powerful machines running something spectacular, that we will maybe call Macs, but that will likely be as different from the Mac as the Mac was from the Apple II series.
    lkruppwatto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 40
    sdw2001sdw2001 Posts: 17,586member
    Why would anyone think that these changes represent “the end of the Mac?”  Apple isn’t losing interest in the Mac, we are. I can’t even describe how much less I use my MacBook than I did even 10 years ago. I can do everything on my phone or work iPad. I use my MacBook for a lot of typing, video processing, etc.  That’s about it.  
    StrangeDaysjdb8167lolliverwatto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 40
    SpamSandwichSpamSandwich Posts: 33,408member
    sdw2001 said:
    Why would anyone think that these changes represent “the end of the Mac?”  Apple isn’t losing interest in the Mac, we are. I can’t even describe how much less I use my MacBook than I did even 10 years ago. I can do everything on my phone or work iPad. I use my MacBook for a lot of typing, video processing, etc.  That’s about it.  
    I’ve been using my iPad Pro exclusively for over a year and to be blunt, it would take a lot to bring me back to using a desktop computer. I’d consider a new MacBook Pro, but I no longer have a need for an iMac or Mac Pro.

    If and when Apple introduces a new computing paradigm with glasses or whatever, I might be interested.
    edited June 2020 jdb8167lolliversdw2001
  • Reply 4 of 40
    canukstormcanukstorm Posts: 2,497member
    PDRPRTS said:
    Apple said countless times.. the MacOS would never be touch-based. What we will have soon is a touch-based OS rebranded Mac. and this is not bad, from a financial and technological point of view it is not only understandable but actually very exciting. just what we will have is iOS's and iDevices take of an old paradigm we once called Macintosh. the Mac started with, and much because, of the mouse. as we shift paradigm to touch, the Mac as it has been since its inception is simply gone. What we have coming technically is better than anything Apple has done without a doubt, and perhaps it makes sense to sacrifice the Mac era for this new profitable and exciting iOS based platform. Steve Jobs said it himself, platforms peak and die. so what remains of the Mac from where i stand is essentially the name..
    (big issue might be the likely end of non App Store installs and the big saas push, but this another issue).

    By the end of this transition, we will have hyper powerful machines running something spectacular, that we will maybe call Macs, but that will likely be as different from the Mac as the Mac was from the Apple II series.
    How did you manage to come to this conclusion?
    kiltedgreenlkruppDeelronStrangeDayslolliverfastasleep
  • Reply 5 of 40
    I’m fairly sure that when Steve introduced OS X he said something like “This should be good for 20 years”.

    ... and pretty much, here we are. And I know, underneath, the bedrock is much the same, but this feels like a replacement.
    fastasleepwatto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 40
    LordhanLordhan Posts: 16member

    "I think those guys are being total tools, honestly," said Federighi. "I mean, I don't how they can even begin to come up with that theory. I get people coming up asking if we can still launch Terminal? Yes, you can. These Macs are Macs. We're not changing any of this.
    StrangeDayslolliverfastasleepwatto_cobra
  • Reply 7 of 40
    kayesskayess Posts: 35member
    Looks like skeuomorphism is on its way back? 


    watto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 40
    sflocalsflocal Posts: 5,658member
    sdw2001 said:
    Why would anyone think that these changes represent “the end of the Mac?”  Apple isn’t losing interest in the Mac, we are. I can’t even describe how much less I use my MacBook than I did even 10 years ago. I can do everything on my phone or work iPad. I use my MacBook for a lot of typing, video processing, etc.  That’s about it.  
    I’ve been using my iPad Pro exclusively for over a year and to be blunt, it would take a lot to bring me back to using a desktop computer. I’d consider a new MacBook Pro, but I no longer have a need for an iMac or Mac Pro.

    If and when Apple introduces a new computing paradigm with glasses or whatever, I might be interested.
    For every person that says this about their iPad Pro, there’s a person that says the opposite.

    the iPad pros are great machines and I know quite a few people that use them as their primary computer.

    i know even more (I’m included) that can’t ever migrate to that solution.  There’s room (and a need) for both.
    canukstormelijahgMplsPmuthuk_vanalingammdriftmeyer
  • Reply 9 of 40
    SpamSandwichSpamSandwich Posts: 33,408member
    kayess said:
    Looks like skeuomorphism is on its way back? 


    Or at least drop shadows.
  • Reply 10 of 40
    The multitasking, multiple window/desktop experience of Mac is still nowhere close to being replicated on an iPad. In my work environment, that convenience alone will keep me using a Mac for a long time. 

    The bigger worry for Apple should be people who spend big $$ to buy a MacBook Air or Pro, or an iMac, to watch YouTube, Netflix, or do Facebook updates. Which is probably a larger population than they care to admit. So, as iPad becomes a better platform for those users, and they abandon the Mac, will there be sufficient customer base left to continue Mac development?
    muthuk_vanalingamsdw2001watto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 40
    Did Apple hire Google's emoji team to draw up this weird condom battery?

    Oh my god! 

    I do hope they change that icon  :o
    lolliverwatto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 40
    elijahgelijahg Posts: 2,213member
    sflocal said:
    sdw2001 said:
    Why would anyone think that these changes represent “the end of the Mac?”  Apple isn’t losing interest in the Mac, we are. I can’t even describe how much less I use my MacBook than I did even 10 years ago. I can do everything on my phone or work iPad. I use my MacBook for a lot of typing, video processing, etc.  That’s about it.  
    I’ve been using my iPad Pro exclusively for over a year and to be blunt, it would take a lot to bring me back to using a desktop computer. I’d consider a new MacBook Pro, but I no longer have a need for an iMac or Mac Pro.

    If and when Apple introduces a new computing paradigm with glasses or whatever, I might be interested.
    For every person that says this about their iPad Pro, there’s a person that says the opposite.

    the iPad pros are great machines and I know quite a few people that use them as their primary computer.

    i know even more (I’m included) that can’t ever migrate to that solution.  There’s room (and a need) for both.
    I'm in the same camp. I could never carry out my work on an iPad, the single (ok, dual) window experience just isn't enough space for me, and the lack of development tools and serious CAD software is another point. There's plenty of open source C/C++ (and OpenGL) software I use on my Mac that will never be ported to iOS. Plus even a 12.9" iPad Pro doesn't cut it when compared with the two 27" displays I have now - I can get a 27" screen for less than the price of an iPad Pro. As well as all that there are numerous programs that just wouldn't work well with a touch interface, but there's no way Apple would allow keyboard/mouse only apps on the iPad. 

    As Jobs said, not everyone needs a truck, but that doesn't mean no one needs a truck. 

    I think the reason iPad sales haven't completely overtaken laptop sales is that people are worried there will be things they can't do on the iPad, even if in reality they only use a computer for browsing and the odd Word document, they have the security of knowing if they *need* to do something that an iPad can't do in the future, they will be able to. Bit like the comfort people ha(ve/d) with Bootcamp when switching from Windows.
    muthuk_vanalingamwatto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 40
    blastdoorblastdoor Posts: 2,394member
    I find the reborn Mac Pro, the move to Apple Silicon, and the macOS changes (both naming and stylistic) to be a huge endorsement of the Mac from Apple. 

    I think there really might have been a time back when the iPad was taking off like a rocket that some senior execs at Apple might have imagined the Mac would eventually be phased out. I think the past several years have made it clear that the iPad cannot replace the Mac for a nontrivial group of high-value users. Yes, it can meet the needs of many, but definitely not all. 

    I think this WWDC shows the Mac is here to stay and is going to be getting more of the attention that it deserves, now that Intel is out of the picture and Apple has full control. 
    fastasleepwatto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 40
    normmnormm Posts: 637member
    rbnetengr said:
    So, as iPad becomes a better platform for those users, and they abandon the Mac, will there be sufficient customer base left to continue Mac development?
    Apple would need the Mac for their own development purposes, even if they didn't sell it to anyone else.  Something with more storage, more processing, bigger screens, more interfaces, etc., than an ordinary user needs.  They need it to build the future, and some of us need it to visit the future now.

    lolliverwatto_cobra
  • Reply 15 of 40
    It’s not “the end of OS X” either (very dramatic headline, AI), it’s just the end of the OS X branding. The changes are, except Apple SoC support, mostly just visuals.
  • Reply 16 of 40
    I find the new look to be hideous. It doesn’t feel balanced at all.
    lkrupp
  • Reply 17 of 40
    canukstormcanukstorm Posts: 2,497member
    I find the new look to be hideous. It doesn’t feel balanced at all.

    StrangeDayslamboaudi4APPLE2c-1984lolliverfastasleepanonconformist
  • Reply 18 of 40
    Is 3D starting to come back - slightly, in icons and some graphics? Maybe, with cross pollination between platforms, this marks the end of the flat-world era started by Jony? I would welcome this with wholehearted joy!
  • Reply 19 of 40
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 11,395member
    kayess said:
    Looks like skeuomorphism is on its way back? 
    Where?
  • Reply 20 of 40
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 11,395member
    I find the new look to be hideous. It doesn’t feel balanced at all.
    What does “balanced” mean?

    I have no problem with the look. Looks high and tight.
    lamboaudi4lolliverfastasleep
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