I tend to write about the impact of software rather than software itself, but I wanted to make an exception for Arc a new-ish web browse I have been using for the past few months. You can read a much better write up than I could give over on the The Verge. However, given that:
- The web browser is one of important pieces of software we all use
- It’s dominated by big tech
- Browser innovation has been glacially slow 1
I thought it was worth taking the time to hype some of the nice touches that the people behind Arc have introduced.
Sidebar not navbar
The biggest thing to get your head round is that Arc has abandoned the top “navbar” that has been part of the browser since Mosaic and replaced it with a sidebar. I am assuming the motivation for this was that computer’s have much wider screens than they did back in 1994 and so you can afford the space on the left. Another reason could be the glorious chrome-less (sorry) mode you can enable with CMD+S that gets all the UI out of the way and allows you to focus on the content.
Side by side tabs
Part of what makes chrome-less browsing feel so good is that you forget you’re using a browser and focus on the app in question – it makes the browser feel more like an OS level window. The side-by-side tabs has a similar effect. Grab another tab and drag it into the current one and rather than just replacing that tab, it opens them both in a side by side mode that automatically resizes both tabs based on how large / wide you make the whole window. I’ve spent the last few months debugging a particularly annoying product and having the app open in one tab and another with my observations in Docs without having to manage two separate windows has been great.
If you use Firefox’s ‘Containers’ add-on you’ll know what this is. Essentially the browser runs multiple instances of itself within the same window which is great for separating out personal stuff from work or whatever else you have going on. Arc puts this at the centre of the experience and encourages you to name and colour code each space to help with the transition between them. Unlike Firefox’s containers however, the spaces all share the same cookies, meaning you can’t use one container (as I did with Firefox) to isolate social media, Google and adtech in general.
Little Arc is a great idea that is lackig some polish. In short, a scaled back version of Arc that opens when clicking on links that originate from somewhere other than the browser itself. The ideal use case of this is from email. You get interested by a some sales email and want to take a quick peak, Little Arc opens meaning that your spaces aren’t cluttered by the additional tab and you can quickly get rid of it when you’re done. The problem is that not all emails are equal, nor are all apps, and remembering to use the Little Arc shortcut is a big ask in my opinion.
CMD+T is dead long live CMD+T
One of the best trends of apps over the past few years has been product development teams building shortcuts and launchers into their apps. When I get a new app these days the first thing I’ll do is hit CMD+K to see what response I get: Linear, Cron and of course Raycast are all great examples of this kind of UX.
CMD+K doesn’t actually do anything in Arc, but CMD+T does a lot more than just open a new tab. Gone are distracting “home screens” that include bookmarks and frequently visited sites and instead you get Arc’s version of a launcher that, as well as simply opening a new URL can, switch spaces, move tabs between spaces, interact with extensions and search your history. It’s genuinely one of the best additions to any browser I can remember since tabs.
Pins and folders for work not mindless archiving
One of the more opinionated features of Arc is that it will bin all your tabs after about 12 hours if you don’t pin them to a space or put them in a folder. While this might sound outrageous I’ve actually found it quite freeing. No more worrying if an open tab can be closed or not, either actively try to save it or it’s gone. By virtue of this dynamic pins become different to bookmarks too. They aren’t for long term storage, they are something inbetween, like a piece of work you haven’t quite finished yet and so need to hold on for longer than 12 hours. Folders change as they become collections of pins, again super helpful if you’re working on something over a longer period of time.
I’ve recently been completing some financial accounts. Mutiple GSheets, some online banking apps and a couple of GDoc reports. These have all live in a folder within my personal space that I’ve been able to dip in and out of as I pushed through the work each evening. Now that the work has been submitted, the folder and all the pins are gone.
Good luck Arc!
Arc won’t be for everyone. The sidebar is a big change. And people will hate the idea of their tabs being lost. The notes and easels feature have questionable value, and the branding overall is a little hokey for my money. But… spaces are great, the launcher is genuine progress and it’s not owned by one of big tech’s regulars.
Arc feels like it was made by a group of people who are considering what it means for us to spend 4-6 hours of our working day inside a browser and the kinds of features that that scenario might necessitate. It really has changed how I use the browser for the better, and for that, I wish them the very best of luck.