An Arc Afloat in Mobile Search

Arc Search combines browser, search engine, and AI into something new and different
This might be the most interesting AI search tool yet

I've been using The Browser Company's Arc web browser on and off for almost three years now (as their cute shareable profile image tells me: April 9, 2021). There were a lot of things to like from the get-go, but various small nits had me defaulting back to Chrome (mixed with Safari for less "heavy" web use). But over the past 18 months or so, that changed. Arc ticked enough boxes mixed with an overall UX/UI that I prefer for web browsing. They do a great job nailing the little things, often subtle elements that can just make the experience of using the web feel faster and more seamless.

Anyway, last night Arc shipped a new mobile app: Arc Search. And about 12 hours in, I'm happy to report that it's also awesome. But in ways that are very different than what makes Arc for desktop awesome. David Pierce sums it up well:

Basically, instead of returning a bunch of search queries about the Chiefs game, Arc Search built me a webpage about it. And somewhere in there is The Browser Company’s big idea about the future of web browsers — that a browser, a search engine, an AI chatbot, and a website aren’t different things. They’re all just parts of an internet information finder, and they might as well exist inside the same app.

Previously, Arc had an app that was really just a companion to their desktop browser – that is, a way to pull up the links you were looking at there (and vice versa). It was fine, but nothing too special.1 This feels special. It's early, but there's something here.

I mainly use Safari on the iPhone as the default gets most of the jobs to be done, done. But I also have long used Mozilla's Firefox Focus as my main searching browser of choice. It's simply much faster to open and get right to your intention, if your only intention is to search for something on the web. And it restricts a lot of the tracking cruft of the web by default. That said, as with Mozilla itself, I worry about its longterm viability. (Not helped by the fact that the iOS widget, the main way I use it, has been visually broken for a few weeks now without anyone seeming to notice and/or care.) Anyway, I wonder if Arc Search may be a new, better way to do search-based browsing on mobile.

I like Arc Search as a browser, too — it’s simple and fast and always opens to an empty search box, which feels right on mobile. But it does put The Browser Company in the middle of a lot of complicated AI discussions. Will the company work with the publishers whose information it’s using to populate these answers? How will Arc’s AI cite its sources? How personalized should these things be? How personalized can they be? A search like this is bound to be expensive; will Arc Search be a paid product over time? The company hasn’t shared much about its plans on these fronts yet, but there are a lot of questions to be answered.

All good questions. But the initial experience is just great. Like Pierce, I did the timely "What time is the Super Bowl?" query test on Arc Mobile. I got the result I wanted, of course, but I also got more than that: including what time it starts both locally where it's being played (Las Vegas) but also where I am at the moment (London). And then it gave me a number of other useful information, tangential to the question. And it formats it all in the newfangled web page, built on the fly by Arc. Again, there are questions about how all of this works at scale, but for now, it's all rather delightful and feels directionally correct.

1 A big part of which is because you have to use Safari's WebKit engine in your mobile browser on iOS and Arc (on desktop) is built with Chromium. One of the (only) likely good changes to come from the new EU DMA rules changes should change this – but only in Europe, for now.