How MacOS Big Sur Improves Your Favorite Built-In Apple Apps

The latest update to macOS beefs up several popular applications. Here is everything Big Sur adds to improve Safari, Messages, Maps, Reminders, and Voice Memos.

The update to macOS Big Sur adds plenty of new features and settings to the mix, but it also does a lot to spruce up the many programs that come packaged with the operating system. Key improvements to Safari, Messages, Maps, Reminders, and Voice Memos promise to make your experience with macOS even better. Here’s a rundown on everything that has changed and how to take advantage of these new capabilities.


The update to Big Sur gives users access to Safari 14, which focuses on adding new privacy features and matching Chrome in functionality.

Customize Your Start Page

You can now tweak your start page in Safari to display your favorite background and decide what information you want to see. To do this, right-click anywhere on your start page. From the menu, select Choose Background. You’ll find several ready-made images in the Desktop Pictures folder, or you can navigate to a different folder to choose your own images. From the menu, show or hide your favorites, frequently visited sites, privacy report, Siri suggestions, reading list, and iCloud tabs.

Built-In Translator

To see a translation of a website displayed in a different language, click the Translate icon at the right end of the address bar and select Translate to English (or another default language). Your current page and the entire site will appear in the language you choose. To revert back, click the Translate icon and select View Original.

Privacy Report

By default, Safari blocks any web trackers from following you from one site to another. The new privacy report will show you which sites and trackers were blocked. Click the Privacy Report icon to the left of the address bar. The tool reveals which trackers were blocked on the current site. To view a history of all cross-site trackers that were blocked, click the Info icon in the upper right.

Password Monitor

Safari will now tell you if one of your saved passwords is weak, used across more than one site, or has possibly been compromised in a breach. To check this in the browser, click the Safari menu and go to Preferences > Password. Double-click any account with a yellow flag next to it. Safari will pinpoint the vulnerability with that account so you can change the password.


Big Sur moves Mac closer to its iOS counterpart as part of the transition to Apple’s M1 chip, so it’s not surprising that Messages adds a lot of the same functionality now available on iPhone.

Pin Conversations

Rather than having to scour all your messages for ones from a specific contact, you can pin that person or conversation to the top of your screen so it’s more easily accessible. Either right-click on a specific conversation and select Pin, or drag and drop the conversation to the top of the pane. To remove a pinned conversation, right-click on it and select Unpin, and it returns to its previous spot in the list.

Threaded Replies

Responding to someone in a lengthy conversation can get confusing, so Apple has now made it possible to reply directly to a specific message from anywhere in the thread. To do this, right-click on the message to which you want to reply and select Reply. The other messages in the conversation fade out, allowing you to type your response at the bottom of the pane. When done, just click anywhere in the thread to see all the messages again.

Add Memoji Stickers and More

In Big Sur, you can easily add photos, memoji stickers, images, and effects to a message. Click the App icon to the left of the message field, either before or after you type your message. You can add a photo or video from your library, add built-in or custom Memoji, insert animated GIFs, and add effects like hearts, balloons, and more.


Apple Maps famously launched with far too many kinks to compete against Google Maps, but the program has been improved significantly and is now worth your time.

View Editor’s Picks and Guides

Maps now shows you to places and topics of interest under the title Editors’ Picks. Click in the Search field to see these picks and then click the See All links to view additional ones. Click a specific pick to read more about it. If you like a particular pick, add it to your guides list. Click the ellipsis icon and select Add to My Guides. From this same spot, click See Publisher’s Guides or See All Guides to view all the available guides.

Get Bike Directions

You can get directions by car, foot, mass transit, and now bicycle. Search for directions, then click the Bike icon at the top. Maps will show you bicycling directions for any accessible route as well as bicycle trails in supported places.

Look Around

You can now check out a 360-degree view of supported areas. Click the Look Around icon at the top. Zoom in or out or drag and drop any area of the map, and the Look Around view will change accordingly.


Apple previously revamped its Reminders app to be more useful to its users, and now additional features have been added for increased productivity.

Assign a Shared Reminder

You have been able to share reminders with other family members, but now you can also assign them to specific people. Go to your shared list and click the + icon to add a reminder. In the new reminder, click the “Assign to” icon and select the name of the person who should handle this task.

Rename and Change Icon for a List

You can now personalize a list in Reminders not just by changing its name but changing its icon. Double-click a list icon to view the Info screen. You can then change the name or the icon. Hover over the icon and select Edit to choose a new icom from a range of emoji and symbols.

Manage the Smart Lists

The Reminders app automatically creates smart lists based on items due today, scheduled items, flagged items, and all items. Now, you can rearrange the order of those smart lists and hide any you don’t need to see. Drag and drop a specific smart list to a new spot. To remove it, right-click on it and select Hide.

Voice Memos

Apple has done a lot of work to make Voice Memos a universal app across all platforms, so it’s good to see the program continue to improve.

Enhance a Recording

The updated Voice Memos app in Big Sur can now automatically enhance the audio of a recording by reducing both background noise and reverberation. You can try this by recording and then playing your memo. Click the Edit button in the upper right and then click the Magic Wand icon. Play the memo again to hear if the quality was improved.

Arrange Your Memos Into Folders

Create a lot of memos, and it may be difficult to organize them all and find specific ones. Now, you can store your memos in individual folders. To do this, click the Sidebar icon at the top of the left pane then click the New Folder icon. Enter a name for the folder and save it, then drag the appropriate memos into your new folder.

All Rights Reserved for Lance Whitney

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