Messages and cards
If you use both an iPhone and a Mac, Messages is probably one of the most important apps you have on both devices. Fortunately, with Big Sur, the Messages experience is almost identical across all platforms. iOS 14 brought a host of new features like inline replies, the ability to pin conversations, @ mentions, and custom images for group chat, improved search capabilities – and they’re all here at Big Sure. Apple has also brought to the Mac a few features that have been present in Messages for iOS for years, including the built-in GIF search, Memoji stickers, and “message effects” (like sending a message with a cloud of confetti or lights. fireworks). So if a friend text from their phone with laser effect, you will no longer see the annoying text description “sent with lasers” on your Mac. It’s the little things.
The Maps app has also received major updates, bringing it back in line with what you’ll find on iOS. Google Maps enthusiasts won’t mind these changes, but Apple Maps on the iPhone is actually pretty good these days (at least in the US). But, like Messages, Maps on Mac lacked many features that Apple had added to its iOS app over the years. Now they are in perfect symmetry. The biggest advantage is that any “guide” (basically a list of locations that you save) that you create on your phone will also be available on the Mac, and vice versa. Previously, Maps only allowed you to add places to a single “favorites” list, but having multiple lists is much more natural. This way you can save the places you want to visit on vacation (when we are allowed to travel again, sigh) separately from your favorite local spots, for example.
All of these lists are saved in a new sidebar that also includes favorite places such as your home and work addresses as well as recent searches. Clicking on the search box at the top of the sidebar also exposes a new feature of Maps: Guides. These are third-party lists of local places like restaurants to try and the best places to take pictures; you can save the ones you want to revert to. Guides range from trusted sources like Lonely Planet and The Washington Post, to smaller, more specific options like Fotospot and AllTrails. There aren’t a ton of guides yet, but you should be able to find some for most major cities. There are guides from around 20 publishers, and I hope that will continue to grow over time.
Finally, Apple’s “Look Around” features, essentially a response to Google Street View, are on Mac for the first time. It’s only available in “certain cities” at the moment, but given the rate at which Apple has improved on Maps lately, it will soon manifest more widely. As is often the case with Apple Maps, the company lags behind Google in a variety of areas, so Google Maps enthusiasts are unlikely to change. But I prefer to use Apple Maps for step-by-step navigation these days, so I’m using the app more and more – having the same experience available on my Mac is important if Apple is to convert more users to its platform. -form.
These are the biggest updates, but Apple has made tweaks in a lot of other apps. One of the most important is unfortunately the one that I haven’t tried yet: the privacy labels that are added to every app in the App Store. They are not yet live, but when they are, you will be able to see what tracking data an app may collect, what personal information is linked to a user, and what data is collected but not linked to your identity. Unlike Safari’s privacy report, these maps in the App Store are the kind of thing you can check before installing any software so you get a better idea of what a developer might be doing with your personal information. Considering how difficult it is to follow, this is certainly a smart move. (These maps will be coming to iOS soon.)
Other changes include new video and photo editing tools in the Photos app, a redesigned “Listen Now” experience in Apple Music, the ability to assign reminders to other family members, improved search in Notes and a bunch of other relatively minor updates. Most of these features are added by Apple to iOS 14, so it is not surprising to see them appear on the Mac. I like the fact that in the last few years of software updates Apple has focused more on syncing the feature sets of its core apps across all platforms.
Another change that you might have noticed on the iPhone which is now on the Mac is the optimized battery charge. Apple says it learns how you use your computer and optimizes charging to prevent battery wear. In practice, this means that the operating system maintains 80% battery charge when the computer is plugged in for “long periods” (such as overnight). It then makes sure the battery is full at times when you typically unplug it. I can’t say if this has made a difference to my battery yet, but I will say my charging patterns on a Mac are less consistent than with my phone, which hits the charger every night. With my laptop, sometimes I’m plugged in all day and other days I walk around the house with only short pauses in charging. But I haven’t had any issues with my Mac not fully charging when I need it, so I’m leaving the setting on for now.