macOS Big Sur vs Catalina: Is it worth an upgrade? [Infographic]

5 min read

Let's just say it: 2020 is a weird year — messing with an ordinary state of things to the extent that you no longer know what's ordinary. So don't panic if you google "What is the latest macOS 2021?" and can't find the macOS version 10.16. It doesn't exist. 

This year, Apple hosted its first virtual-only WWDC event where they announced a transition to macOS 11, hence ending the era of Mac OS X generation. The new macOS Big Sur version 11.0 arrives with an overhauled design that features lots of iOS elements. Also, macOS 11 will be the first operating system to support Macs with Apple silicon chips. So just like anything 2020, macOS Big Sur is pretty unusual — but is it really worth an upgrade? 

macOS Big Sur review: What's new

Before we look at the pros and cons, let's focus on the major changes that Apple Big Sur is bringing to the table. The following section will help you understand whether an upgrade to Big Sur makes sense in your case. If you decide to skip it over, we won't judge you — but make sure you check the infographic below for a quick summary.  

macOS Big Sur requirements: Will your Mac run macOS 11? 

Full disclosure: This article only makes sense if you can give a positive answer to the question "Can my Mac run Big Sur?" If it's a no, breathe out and continue enjoying Catalina. Or, get a new Mac. If you compare device compatibility in macOS Big Sur vs Catalina, you'll notice a change. Essentially, Big Sur moves a year to two years ahead, cutting off support for all Macs released prior to 2013. 

Here’s the full list of macOS Big Sur compatible devices: 

  • MacBook (2015 or later)

  • MacBook Air (2013 or later)

  • MacBook Pro (2013 or later)

  • Mac Pro (2013 or later)

  • Mac Mini (2014 or later)

  • iMac (2014 or later)

  • iMac Pro (2017 or later). 

You’ll find more on macOS Big Sur system requirements here

Design changes that change it all 

Apple calls it the biggest design change in the last 20 years. We call it an iPad marries a Mac.  Here's a quick dive into why macOS Big Sur is very different from what you experience with Catalina: 

  • New Control Center featuring quick access to settings and controls on Mac

  • Full-size sidebars across apps

  • Notifications grouped by apps 

  • Three new widget layouts

  • Widgets and notifications can be combined within one view 

  • Translucent Dock icons and the menu bar

  • Rounded corners across windows and app icons. 

Big Sur design changes

It looks like macOS Big Sur takes a content-first approach, removing visual complexity and helping you customize lots of things on a desktop. It also has that sweet homely iOS vibe about it, which you’ll recognize instantly if you’re an iPhone/iPad user. Also, check our article about list of mac os versions

The iPadification of Mac 

Apart from the design change, the latest macOS is embracing more iOS apps via Catalyst. For instance, Maps and Messages have been redesigned with the Mac Catalyst app — and Catalyst itself is getting some major enhancements. Particularly, it arrives with access to more iOS frameworks, new APIs, and the ability to control Mac Catalyst apps using just the keyboard. 

The Catalyst era kicked off in 2019, with the release of macOS 10.15 Catalina. Apple made it possible to port iOS apps to macOS, and introduced Screen Time as the first native app to undergo the Catalyst transition. With macOS 11, Catalyst apps continue arriving — easy to port and fitting the Big Sur design perfectly. 

Big Sur iOS apps

What’s more, Macs with Apple silicon chips will be able to run iOS apps natively on Big Sur. This means one thing: In the battle of Big Sur vs Catalina, the former certainly wins if you want to see more iOS apps on Mac. 

Safari reborn on macOS Big Sur

Apple introduced some great Safari improvements with macOS Catalina, including weak password flagging and tab switching. But compared to what they did this year, Catalina updates were just the beginning of a major Safari transformation. On macOS Big Sur, Safari is crazily customizable and 50% faster than Chrome. Here are some key changes: 

  • Customizable start page. You can set any background picture and choose what should appear on your Safari start page. 

  • Preview tabs. Hover over any tab for a quick website preview. 

  • Bring extensions from anywhere. Developers can easily migrate third-party extensions to Safari. 

  • Translate an entire web page. Translate a website page across seven languages in a flash. 

  • See who’s tracking you. The new built-in Privacy Report gives you access to the list of trackers on any website, which is a huge leap forward in terms of safer browsing. 

Is it safe to update to Big Sur? 

Many users are wondering whether it’s safe to download and install Big Sur at this point. We’ve dived into the depths of Reddit and Twitter, searching for any hints about macOS Big Sur misbehavior. So far, there have been some reports on installation problems and Safari crashing. But considering betas are generally buggy, it seems normal. 

According to Apple, macOS Big Sur will offer even more control over users’ personal data. Developers will be asked to provide extensive information on their privacy practices when bringing apps to the App Store — so that you know what types of data an app collects before installing it. And with the new Privacy Report in Safari, you can expect a safer browsing journey on Big Sur. So we believe it’s pretty safe to upgrade to Big Sur. 

Read more about how to upgrade mac os the right way

The only recommendation is to make sure your Mac is prepared well in advance. Free up storage with CleanMyMac X — you’ll need at least 20GB of free disk space — and back up data with Get Backup Pro just to be sure nothing disappears from your Mac. Both tools are on Setapp and available with a 7-day free trial. 

CleanMyMac X app

Catalina vs Big Sur: Final verdict 

The question “Should I upgrade to Big Sur or not?” doesn’t have an easy answer. But we say give it a try if you like the new iOS-inspired design and enhanced Safari. Also, macOS Big Sur is the best operating system for porting iOS apps — and, hopefully, running iOS apps in the near future. Summing it up, here’s the final look at Big Sur vs Catalina features: 

240+ apps for $9.99
per month

Sign up to Setapp and try them for free.