Arc Browser Companion released on iOS, but it's not a browser

Arc is a web browser on macOS that challenges the paradigm of what we expect a web browser to be. When tabs were introduced to browsers it was a welcome change, but since that first introduction I haven’t tried anything that revolutionizes the tabbed experience quite like Arc.

So when the Arc Mobile Companion was released on the iOS App Store yesterday there was a lot of excitement for it, but despite their best efforts to label it as a “companion” app there was a lot of chatter expressing disappointment and asking questions. I can understand the desire for something that similarly revolutionized the browser experience on mobile, but for now I’m happy with the companion app for a few reasons.

Browsing on desktop and mobile is totally different

Users on a desktop (or laptop) are using their browser in a very different way than users on their phones. When you’re sitting down somewhere using a desktop browser, you’re probably in for a longer browsing session that jumps around between tabs frequently. On mobile, you’re probably just filling time or stopping some other task to look something up. You’re not living in the browser since most services have mobile apps, but instead you’re jumping between apps and in and out of the browser as you open links shared from messages or social media. On top of all this, the limited screen space and input methods add challenges. Squeezing a full desktop app into a phone without losing what makes it special isn’t an easy task.

It saves you in a pinch

While you don’t always need to get things done the same way from a phone, there are times you can’t avoid it. When an urgent issue pops up that needs attention, the Arc companion app gives you a way to jump into action. It’s nice having your spaces and pinned tabs all available whenever those situations hit. This is the use case I was hoping the first version would solve, and it does exactly that.

Another nice feature is the share to Arc extension that makes it easy to pin a link to any of your spaces from anywhere in iOS. If I can’t read an article or want to come back to some webpage later, it’s a good solution. Next time I’m on my desktop (or open the companion app) I’ll be able to jump right into those tabs.

Arc - Your home on the internet

It’s not a browser

Arc is far from complete and still invite only, so I think expectations for the first mobile version were a little too high. The team is rapidly refining the desktop experience, and I see no reason to doubt that they can’t rapidly mold the mobile experience now that they’ll have real-world feedback. As a Chromium-based browser on desktop, one of the technical things holding it back is the Apple imposed limitation that iOS browsers must use WebKit. Long term it may not be an issue, whether Apple changes their rules or Arc simply learns to live with it.

I don’t find myself thinking of Arc when I browse the web on my phone, but there is somewhere else I do miss it…

What I want: Arc for iPad

The iPad lives between the desktop and phone in a way that feels more suited to Arc’s paradigm, and with a keyboard paired it could have an almost identical experience to desktop. In ways it may become even better – the touch interface could give new gestures controls in a way that a mouse or trackpad isn’t capable of achieving.

Tablets tend to be used for longer and more engaged sessions than phones. They’re great devices for reading when you don’t want to be constrained by your desk or laptop. Phones might get pulled out more often, but usually it’s limited to just a few minutes of casual single-handed use at a time. I think that the more intentional nature of tablet usage would lend itself to the type of tasks that you jump from tab to tab or space to space. It’d be nice to be able to be able to pick up where I left off on a project without the need to drag my laptop on a plane or even somewhere more comfortable like the couch or by the pool.

Bringing Arc to the iPad would be huge. I have no idea how far we are from it becoming a reality, but I’m much more excited about the possibility of a tablet optimized Arc experience.