The Browser Company of New York, maker of the new Arc Web browser (see “Arc Will Change the Way You Work on the Web,” 1 May 2023), seems to be having a good time. To introduce Arc Max, a collection of five experimental AI features for Arc, The Browser Company teased a live event and delivered what turned out to be a spoof news show coupled with a takeoff on a QVC home shopping channel presentation. It wasn’t at Apple’s level of production values, but it was goofy fun and a welcome change from boring press releases.
If you don’t have 20 minutes to watch, here’s how The Browser Company has integrated AI into Arc. First, enable the features by opening Arc > Settings > Max, clicking Turn On Max, and turning all the switches on.
Here’s what each of the Arc Max options does:
- Ask on Page: When you enable this option, Arc extends the standard capability of searching for text on the page, enabling you instead to ask questions about the page content, returning AI-generated results. It’s neat, but I didn’t find it all that effective. On TidBITS articles, it tended to bog down in the comments, and on several other pages, the answers weren’t quite right. I’ll keep Ask on Page enabled for now, but I don’t anticipate preferring it to simple searches in most cases. Plus, I read and absorb information very quickly, so I seldom find summaries helpful. Those who read more slowly or are just looking for quick answers may find it more useful.
- 5-Second Previews: Some of us hover over links to preview URLs before clicking to get a sense of where we’re going; Arc Max’s 5-Second Previews take that to the extreme. On certain pages, such as Google, DuckDuckGo, and Bing Search results, The Site Formerly Known as Twitter, Threads, and HackerNews, hover over a link to bring up a little window that summarizes the page behind the link. On any other page, press Shift and hover over the link to get the preview. The name likely comes from it taking about 5 seconds for Arc to load, process, and summarize the page, which is impressive but slower than ideal. As with the Ask on Page feature, your opinion of 5-Second Previews may vary based on how quickly you read or the level of depth you want. I found the summaries interesting and well done within the space constraints, but I can’t see myself using the previews much. It’s just too easy to load and scan the page myself.
- Tidy Tab Titles: This feature is highly Arc-specific. To pin a tab, you drag it from the Today tab area at the bottom of the sidebar to the pinned tab area anywhere above. In the past, the name of the pinned tab matches the title of the page, which is awkward because page titles are usually overly long (often to cram as many search-friendly keywords as possible into them). For instance, if I want to pin the Google Doc in which I’m writing this article (which I do), its name would be Arc Browser Gains Focused AI Features / Adam Engst, and at the current width of my sidebar, I’d see Arc Browser Gains Focused… The Arc Max’s Tidy Tab Titles feature uses AI to rename the tab to make it more likely to fit, Arc Browser AI in this case. It also does a good job of stripping site names and other unnecessary bits, so iOS 17 – Apple drops to merely iOS 17, and Hush Nag Blocker on the App Store becomes just Hush Nag Blocker. You may be able to come up with better names on your own, but having Arc automatically shorten pinned tab names is welcome regardless.
- Tidy Downloads: Arc Max’s Tidy Downloads feature is similar but renames downloaded files. It works well at taking awkward automatically generated file names and turning them into something more readable, with a little pop-up in the bottom-left corner of the screen alerting you to the new name. If you need to keep the original file name, click the little curving arrow to revert. I think I’ll like this feature a lot because I’m not very good at cleaning out my Downloads folder, and this will make it easier to see what’s there.
- ChatGPT in the Command Bar: The final Arc Max feature is perhaps the least interesting unless you’re already a heavy user of ChatGPT. It lets you start ChatGPT conversations from Arc’s command bar using a dedicated Command-Option-G keyboard shortcut. (Note that Google Drive’s default search shortcut is the same, so if you use both, you’ll have to reset one or the other.) Once you press Return, the conversation opens in a regular ChatGPT window and proceeds like any other chat. You need a ChatGPT account and must be logged in.
Of these features, I find Tidy Tabs and Tidy Downloads the most compelling because they require no interaction, don’t trigger any worries about AI accuracy, and are easily reverted. It’s a rather Apple-like approach to AI—building it into background behavior rather than assuming we want to talk to an AI chatbot.
For at least the next 90 days, The Browser Company isn’t charging for Arc Max, even though it is undoubtedly racking up quite a bill with OpenAI and Anthropic. That’s because it’s unclear if users will find these features helpful, so the company is actively requesting feedback via Help > Share Feedback. I’m sure The Browser Company is also collecting telemetry on how often each feature is used. In fact, it just announced that the 5-Second Previews feature has already read over 1.5 million Web pages on behalf of Arc users.
After 90 days, the features may disappear or move behind some sort of paywall. Or not—perhaps the cost of keeping Tidy Tabs and Tidy Downloads running, for instance, is small enough that The Browser Company will treat it merely as another cost of doing business. Regardless, I approve of the philosophical approach of being willing to remove features that don’t work out. Even these five features were selected from a crop of prototypes—The Verge talked with The Browser Company CEO Josh Miller about the thinking behind Arc Max and the prototypes that didn’t make the cut.
Check back in a few months to see which features have survived.