With macOS 11 Big Sur, Apple Travels to the Past to Pave the Future

I was going to do this in a tweet thread, but then I remembered I pay for a blog and so I should probably use it.

Apple unveiled its latest macOS update, codenamed “Big Sur” — and “big” it was. It boasts a completely new redesign that brings the look and feel of iPadOS to the Mac like we’ve never seen before. Rounded rectangle icons, menus and app designs that look like ports of iPad apps (and in some cases, that’s exactly what they are), as well as Control Center and Notification Center.

It is, as some have feared, the “iOS-ification” of the Mac.

And it looks awesome.

But not everyone feels that way. Developer Jeff Johnson tweeted the following this evening:

Classic Mac OS and Mac OS X (and NeXTSTEP) were desktop operating systems. They were designed to be desktop operating systems.

What we have now is no longer a desktop OS, and that’s why I’m no longer interested. I don’t want a “generic” OS. That’s not why I switched to Mac.

It’s a big leap for longtime fans of the Mac who see iOS as a smaller portion of their daily computing. They don’t see the Mac getting better as a result of Big Sur–they see it being sacrificed on the altar of iOS. I, however, disagree. This is the future of the Mac and how the company plans to welcome iOS users into the fold.

Let’s face it — the iPhone is a toaster. It’s a refrigerator. Everyone knows how to use it. They know what to expect. Hell, my five year old son knows how to putz around on my iPhone as well as I do. It’s…unsettling. Apple nailed it. They did what they’ve always done dating back to the original Macintosh, to the iPod, and everything in-between: they made a device for the everyperson.

The iPad follows in the iPhone’s footsteps. While it’s slightly more complicated due to its size and capacity for multiple gestures, the paradigm is familiar. You know how to operate an iPad because you know how to operate an iPhone. The Mac, on the other hand, is another beast entirely. Its interface is drastically different. iPhone users who use Windows on the desktop have no interest in migrating to Mac because it’s one more thing to learn. It’s another hurdle to jump over. “Can I get my favorite apps on it? Why doesn’t it behave like my PC? Why doesn’t it work like my phone?”

Well, now it does. Potential Mac users won’t see a third computing platform. They’ll see that their future computer looks just like their phone, or their iPad. And once Apple migrates to its own silicon, they’ll be able to run their favorite phone and tablet apps just about anywhere. Apple did what it always does: it saw the future and it ran straight toward it.

The future is the kid whose first device was an iPhone. The future is the lawyer who loves reading on her iPad, but wants to have a similar experience while working on her laptop. As Ashton Kutcher’s Steve Jobs puts it in the 2013 film Jobs while describing his vision of the Macintosh:

“This thing is for the everyman, right? That is our end user: it’s the school teacher. It’s the garbage man. It’s the kid. It’s some grandma out in Nebraska, right? So, we have to make this thing simple. It has to work like an appliance.”

That’s always been Apple’s ethos. Simplicity. Accessibility. An ever-flattening learning curve. Older Mac users may grumble about how their precious operating system has been hijacked, how the simpler it gets, the worse it gets (which I believe speaks to a much more toxic point of view from nerds who enjoy knowing things “regular people” don’t), but they’re missing the point. Or, perhaps, they’ve forgotten it: it’s not about them anymore.

The torch has been passed to a new generation. iOS wasn’t just a catapult to the future of mobile phone technology. It was a glimpse into the future of computing as a whole — the future of Apple. A future where a “generic” OS would entice “Never Mac-ers” into taking a closer look.

In the Fall of this year, Apple will introduce macOS 11. And you’ll see why 2020 will be just like 1984.