Apple’s new compact UI in iOS 14, iPadOS 14 and macOS Big Sur

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The first public version of macOS Big Sur should be arriving for Mac in the coming weeks. Here’s what to expect from the new compact UI.

This fall, Apple’s introducing a fresh software design for iPhone, iPad, and Mac with iOS 14/iPadOS 14 and macOS Big Sur, respectively. The updates are packed with new features. Perhaps the most noticeable change is the compact user interface, or UI, presented on all three platforms. The following are the most noticeable design changes.

iPhone and iPad

The operating system updates in iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 share many of the same design changes across both platforms. Most of these UI changes focus on shrinking borders and pop-ups and giving the space to other processes. The result is a more refined look that better maximizes the screen.

Key Changes

The next time you receive a phone call on your iPhone or iPad, you’ll notice the banner no longer takes over the entire screen. Because of this, you won’t lose track of what you were doing before the call came through. You can also remove the banner (while still talking on the phone) by swiping up or swiping down to access extended phone features. The change also extends to FaceTime calls, swipe up to dismiss the banner, or swipe down to access the advanced FaceTime features. Third-party developers (like Microsoft’s Skype) now have a developer API to support compact incoming calls.

Siri has also been downsized on iPhone and iPad. With the compact UI, you can now view information onscreen while also launching a new task. After saying, “Hey Siri,” you’ll find the voice assistant at the bottom middle of the screen on the iPhone, and in the bottom-right corner on the iPad. Regardless, Siri gets out of the way whenever you launch apps, place calls, or get directions.

Siri Shortcuts also take up less space in iOS 14 and iPadOS 14. The change is noticeable when running a shortcut from the Shortcuts app, Siri Suggestions, the share sheet, Accessibility features, or the new Shortcuts widget on the Home Screen.


Apple saved the most significant design changes this year for Mac with macOS Big Sur. In general terms, the update brings Mac more in line with the look of the iPhone and iPad. However, there’s no mistaking that even with the changes, this is still a Mac.

Key Changes

Among the design changes made in macOS Big Sur is an updated menu bar that’s taller and more translucent than before. The change allows your desktop picture to extend from edge to edge. Pull-down menus are also more extensive, providing more space between the lines, so things are easier to read.

Meanwhile, the redesigned Dock is also more translucent with the app icons easier to recognize. macOS Big Sur also offers a lighter window appearance. The added transparency and rounded edge provide a more cohesive look and feel throughout the macOS. Sidebars also include more space, making it easier to access Finder folders and organize Photos, Notes, Stocks, and more.

There’s also a new Control Center, designed specifically for Mac. It offers your favorite menu bar items in one location, so you have immediate access. These include your Wi-Fi settings, brightness, sound loudness, Music app control, and more.

You’ll also notice a redesigned Notification Center that places your alerts and widget in one location. These notifications get sorted by most recent, and the redesigned Today widgets make it easier to view important information at a glance. Many of the app notifications are now interactive, such as those for Apple Podcasts, Mail, and Calendar. You’ll find action items by clicking and holding on a notification box. Those widgets have also been redesigned for many of Apple’s most important Mac apps, including Calendar, Weather, Reminders, and Notes. You can also select from different-sized widgets, just like on iOS 14 and iPadOS 14.

Another design change occurred in Safari for Mac. You’ll find more tabs onscreen so you can move quickly between them. You can also hover over any tab to bring up an instant page preview. Better still, the Safari Start Page has been completely redesigned. You can set a custom background image, and also decide what appears on this page. You can choose from your Reading List, Favorites, iCloud Tabs, Siri Suggestions, and a Privacy Report.

Other designed-focused changes in macOS Big Sur include:

  • New icons for apps: App icons have been redesigned to feel both familiar and fresh. Icons have a uniform shape but retain the stylistic touches and details that give Mac its character.
  • Redesigned sheets: Sheets in apps have been completely redesigned, removing borders and bezels to put the focus on your content. They automatically dim the background and scale into the center of the app.
  • New symbols throughout macOS: New symbols in toolbars, sidebars, and controls bring clarity and consistency across apps, helping you immediately recognize where to click. When apps share common tasks — like viewing the inbox in Mail or Calendar — they share the same symbol. There are also localized versions of symbols with numbers, letters, and dates to match your system language.
  • Message effects in Messages: Celebrate special moments with balloons, confetti, lasers, and more. Or send a message loudly or gently, or even slam it. Send a personal message with invisible ink that remains blurred until you swipe over it with your cursor.
  • Adaptive Lighting in the Home app for smart light bulbs: Light bulbs that change color can be automatically adjusted throughout the day to maximize comfort and productivity. Ease into the morning with warmer colors, stay focused midday with cooler colors, and wind down at night by removing the blue light.
  • Photos: Zoom in and out to quickly get to the photos and videos you’re looking for in views across Photos — including Albums, Media Types, Import, Places, and more.
  • Spotlight Streamlined list of results: Spotlight presents all your results in a streamlined list, making results easier to digest so you can get to the app, website, or document you need even faster.

The first public version of macOS Big Sur should be arriving for Mac in the coming weeks. Most Macs going back to 2013 will support the new operating system. Initially announced in June, macOS Big Sur is Apple’s final software update not yet released to the general public. In recent weeks, iOS 14, iPadOS 14, watchOS 7, and tvOS 14 were released.

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