Arc is a pretty new web browser, currently out in closed beta for users of macOS (you need to get a friend who already uses it to invite you before you can install it). Its main drawcard is its radically different UX compared to most other browsers, taking a unique approach to tab management and bookmarks (which in Arc are the same thing). It’s based on the Chromium browser engine.
A short list of Arc features would go as follows:
- It has “Spaces”, a.k.a. tab groups. As of a recent update, you can also assign profiles to those tab groups, allowing you to keep stuff like your cookies, browsing history, etc. isolated to each tab group (cf. Firefox’s containers feature). Spaces can also each have a distinct theme, so you can make them look pretty different from each other.
- Tabs are divided into three groups: favourites, which are the same in every group, and for stuff you might need to access no matter what task you’re working on; pinned tabs, which you could think of either as “tabs you want to keep open” or as bookmarks, and are specific to a space; and “today’s tabs”, which are unpinned. By default, Arc auto-closes “today’s tabs” after 12 hours of you not accessing them, although you can find them again in the archive if you realise you need to open one again. This helps to reduce tab clutter.
- You can split your screen, to have multiple tabs (up to four) open side-by-side simultaneously.
- It has an in-built note-taking feature.
- It also has an in-built “easel” feature, which lets you draw and include images and stuff.
- You can generate a URL to share a note or an easel with others, including non-Arc users.
- It offers a mini-player, which will pop up automatically if you click away from a tab that had a video or audio track playing.
- It offers “previews” for some web apps I don’t use, which basically means you can check your Google Calendar or join a video call you got the link to in your Gmail or Outlook account, just from hovering over the tab and without needing to switch to it.
The main criticisms I’ve seen of Arc are that it’s yet another Chromium-based browser, and that the company behind it (unimaginatively named The Browser Company) don’t yet seem to have thought of a business plan, even though they have raised US$13 million in investor funding. Possibilities that have occurred to them include a search licensing deal, releasing an enterprise edition, moving to a freemium model and introducing advertising. The fact that this is still uncertain, though, has some people wary. Personally, I’m also a little uncomfortable with the way they drove up buzz about the browser by keeping publicly-available information about it to a minimum and only slowly trickling out invites – to me that feels like trying to “recruit” people to your browser by means of FOMO instead of advocating for it earnestly. But once I became a part of the in-crowd, I did actually find the UX of using Arc really good.
I used Arc for a bit over a week in August 2022; I ended up going back to Vivaldi because Arc started using a ton of my CPU. I revisited in October, and the CPU usage issue seems to have been fixed. As of time of writing I’m unsure of whether I’ll stick with it, or try Orion Browser instead, or whether I’ll slink back to Vivaldi. It definitely has some cool ideas, though.
See Also / References
- Protocol: The startups reinventing the web browser (25 May 2021)