The Browser Company’s team set out to create a mobile web browser at the start of the year. CEO Josh Miller stated that we were not allowed to make a default browser for mobile devices. Because Safari is already there, it felt like a waste of time . Apple has made it so that every other Safari browser is only one Safari. The Browser Company is not trying to create another browser. It’s building “the internet computer”, an internet operating system that will change the way we interact online with apps and content.
The team decided to create a mobile browser instead of a browser. Sidebar is the main feature of Arc’s desktop application and one of its most important features. It is a combination bookmarking tool, app launcher, and allows you to organize your online life in a way you like. Miller says that he was surprised by the response to his survey of over 1,000 Arc members. “People weren’t saying, ‘I really need a replacement mobile Safari’. Instead, everyone said, I just want my sidebar.
Arc for mobile, codenamed Archie, is exactly that. It’s now available on iOS. However, you will need to have an Arc membership in order to use it. This is only currently available by invitation. I’m told that this link will work for 10,000 people, so get busy! The app is a sidebar that you have on your phone. The app will eventually need to be more. Miller and The Browser Company hope to eventually replace your default browser, and turn its entire “internet computer vision” into a mobile application. Even in its early stages, I was surprised at how useful having my sidebar on my smartphone has been.
After you open the app, log in to Arc and it populates every space you have created within the app. In this context, spaces are like pages on your smartphone’s homescreen. Each space can have its very own background color, as well as its own folders and bookmarks. You can also see your most recent tabs across all spaces in the “Recents” area. Tap on a link to open it in the app. Swipe down to close it, and you can return to your space. The search bar is located at the bottom. You can use it to search through all your tabs or spaces.
Arc’s mobile app doesn’t have most of the same features as a regular mobile browser. There is no “new tab” button nor persistent URL bar. When you click on the search button and Google something, the page will disappear forever unless you hit “pin” and save it to one your spaces.
The majority of this stuff is missing, at least temporarily. The Browser Company believes that basic web browser stuff is different from basic Arc stuff. They’ve chosen Arc stuff to do first. Nate Parrott (a designer on the team) says that the first version of Arc’s mobile app didn’t have a web view. “We just opened Safari.” This felt too much, so they created one. But, Parrott admits that “it’s still not a very great mobile browser”. “Because it wasn’t our intention to create an amazing mobile browser,” Parrott says. The team calls it a companion app to Arc.
Arc has been a great app. I have used it for two purposes. The first is as a tool for transferring webpages. It is extremely difficult to transfer webpages between PCs and phones, but Arc’s sidebar synced makes it simple. My MacBook can search for an address in Google Maps, pin it to my sidebar and it will appear on my phone immediately. It launches directly into Google Maps with a single tap.
It’s ridiculously difficult to transfer webpages between PCs and phones, but Arc makes it simple with its synced sidebar
Quick digression. That link opens Google Maps is Arc’s coolest feature, and possibly the most transformative. Arc can be used on your laptop to provide shortcuts to various web apps. However, on mobile it can also act as a launcher for all your other apps. It’s more powerful than your homescreen. It can launch Notion, a specific Notion page or a YouTube video or the exact file that you are looking for. An Arc space I call “Queue” contains links to Netflix, YouTube videos, New York Timesarticles and anything else I need to return to. Just tap the link and it will open in the correct app.
This is the core of The Browser Company’s “operating system to the internet” vision. The company’s most important idea is that everything in an internet-based world is just a URL. This means everything can be linked to from any location. The thin client is all you need. Arc’s app really is just a collection of well-organized URLs. This makes it a great launcher.
Now, let’s get back to random stuff collection. The iOS Share Sheet allows you to send stuff to Arc via other apps. I find myself using it all of the time to access things I need to return to later. There are blogs to read, TikToks I want to send to my wife, and so on. All that information is lost in other browsers can be lost in the clutter of many open tabs. In Arc I simply pin it to the sidebar so I can flip through everything whenever I return to my computer.
Arc is an excellent program for what it is. It is fast, it has beautiful animations, and most of Arc’s usual polish is still in place even in the early versions. It doesn’t feel full-featured browser to me. Arc’s forced minimalism makes it feel cleaner and more user-friendly than a lot of tab management. It’s almost like Android users using the built-in search engine for everything. The ephemerality and convenience of everything is mostly a good thing.
Now, let me give you a long and incomplete list of things that Arc’s mobile application does not have. Your favorites, those tabs at the top of your desktop browser, can’t be accessed. This is strange because these are the tabs that you use most often. You can add to your pinned Tabs, but not the temporary Today section. It is not possible to rename tabs, or change their icons. Arc doesn’t allow you to create new notes or easels, which are two of the best features. You also can’t edit existing ones. You can view them though. It is impossible to create new spaces or alter the colors of existing spaces. Browser extensions are not supported. “Boosts” is an Arc mini-extension that allows you to modify the way individual websites work. It is not possible to choose which app you want to open different URLs with. Mobile users can’t access Arc’s Library feature, which means that screenshots and downloads aren’t saved.
Miller and his team know all of this. Most of that is already on the roadmap, according to me. They don’t know how it all works. My conversations with The Browser Company team revealed one thing: how much the development process has blown them away. It challenged their ideas about how to challenge industry assumptions about mobile browsers. They were surprised at how powerful the two-way sidebar sync was. Also, they were amazed at the ability to deep link with other apps. Is there anything else we can do?
Parrott said that “there’s very much an exploration into, like, what it means to create on the internet, on a smartphone, that feels very different than desktop?” Once, Parrott and his team created a way to save pages by simply taking screenshots of them. A URL and your image would then be saved to a stack. He says that it wasn’t the right way to save a page, but it did reinforce the idea that mobile’s creation experience is so different.
Apple has been limiting the capabilities of browser makers for years. But, the Arc team seems aware that things are changing. The rest of the industry is also noticing this: Mozilla and Google have already built browsers without Apple’s WebKit rendering engines, which is required for all iOS browsers. The mobile browser wars are heating up, whether Apple is forced to be open by regulators or simply lets its rules go. Arc is built on Chromium. If Chromium makes it mobile, then almost everything in Arc could be.
Arc is certain to surpass Safari and eventually become your default iOS browser. Parrott states that “I feel like there is a low bar in terms of innovation within the mobile browsing space.” “I have no doubt that we can do it,” Parrott says. But, building a better Safari is not the goal. The goal is, as always, to reinvent what a mobile web browser can be. Miller said that all the browser features “will be secondary” to the notion that David is a human being. David has stuff happening in his life. What does David need for that stuff, Miller added. To organize his digital life around it.”