MacOS Big Sur: What it means for the future of Mac and iPad?

I’ve been using the latest macOS Big Sur since it was released a couple of days ago. Although the new design is obvious, I think there is more behind it. Could it be the first step of merging between Mac and iPad?

Last week Apple announced new Macs with M1 chip (their own chips on ARM architecture) and the latest version of macOS with name Big Sur was released. MacOS got the biggest visual upgrade in years. And a few changes made me think about the direction Apple is headed.

With Big Sur released, I think there are two possibilities – either Mac computers are getting touchscreen soon or iPads are getting macOS or at least the support of Mac Apps. Two years ago Tim Cook said there is no plan for merging Mac and iPad, but I think that may be not true anymore. Let’s see why. 

UI elements of Big Sur

Big Sur offers a giant visual overhaul and you’ll see it immediately. Dock is now floating at the bottom (same as on the iPad), icons have a new design, with rounded corners (same as on the iPad/iPhone), widgets have the same visual as on the iPad and Control Center is also revamped, looking more like the one on… you guess it… the iPad! Mac OS and iPad OS are now more similar than ever. Of course, maybe it’s just because Apple wants to have similar design between all their platforms, so people could be familiar with every device, even the ones they weren’t using before. But I am thinking there is more to it.

Big Sur_macOS
Sliders for Brightness and Sound looks like optimized for touch. Menu Bar apps at the top have bigger spaces between them.

When I look at some UI elements, it seems to me that they were designed with touch in mind. Just look at the menu bar at the top of your Mac screen. There are icons for battery, Control center, Wi-Fi etc. and the spaces between them are bigger than ever. It doesn’t make sense for the Mac itself, because you could comfortably click on them with the mouse before, but these bigger spaces would be beneficial for fingers, in case of tapping on these icons. 

Another similar case is with the Control center. Again, it resembles the one on iPads. And sliders for Brightness and Sound control seem unnecessary big. If you’ll see it, you want to reach your hand and swipe your finger over it. Finder window is another example of interesting change in UI. Back and forward buttons used to be placed just under close, minimize and maximize buttons. Now they are to the right of them, they are bigger and they are further from each other.

Mac with touch screen or iPad with macOS?

All the things mentioned above made me think that we could get a Mac with a touchscreen. Not to forget that with the release of Macs with M1 chip we’ll be able to run iPhone and iPad apps on the Mac. It would be only natural to control them with touch. Touchscreens have been part of Windows laptops for years, but Apple refused to implement them and only added touch bar to the Macbooks Pro four years ago. And I am okay with this. I am not a fan of touchscreen in laptops, because after a while with all these fingerprints the screen starts to look pretty ugly. But now with Big Sur, it looks like touchscreen could be coming to the Mac in the near future.

macOS Big Sur
Back and Forward buttons were moved further from their previous place, they are also bigger and now it would be easier to tap them with fingers.

There is also another option. And that would be iPad with macOS instead of iPadOS. Big Sur already looks like it’s optimized for touch and iPad has also keyboard and touchpad/mouse support. It would also make the iPad more useful for developers or video editors. Although iPads are now capable devices they are still missing software like Xcode or Final Cut Pro. If not the full transition of macOS to the iPad, we could maybe see some Mac apps transition to the iPad. It shouldn’t be hard to port them, since now will Macs use the same chip architecture as the iPads.

Which option will happen we’ll see in a year or two. Or I may be completely wrong and Big Sur is only a redesign with aim to look more like the iPad.