The Browser Company has released a new version of its Arc browser that has a host of potentially brilliant AI tools.
Dubbed Arc Max, the new AI tools include a five-second preview of links, saving you from having to click through to the page to get the gist of a story. There’s also an option to ask questions about the contents of a web page and the option to access ChatGPT using a quick keyboard shortcut.
It’s the most impressive implementation of AI in a browser I’ve seen to date, trumping the way Microsoft built ChatGPT features into Microsoft Edge. However, this early iteration falls frustratingly short of perfection.
By far the most impressive of the Arc Max features is that AI-generated synopsis of what lies behind links, often saving you the hassle of having to click through to a story to discover what it’s about.
Hold down shift and hover the mouse over a link, and it should deliver a short, bullet-pointed preview of the linked website, as shown above.
When it works it’s brilliant, a huge time saver that often saves you having to click through to the article itself, especially if you only want the bare details.
However, the feature is erratic. Shift-clicking on the link itself often doesn’t generate a preview. Instead, you frequently have to click to the side or above a link to make it work.
On pages that are densely populated with links, such as the Hacker News site, you often have to click on a link that’s one or two places above the one you want to read to get the preview.
This has the potential to be a game-changing feature for Arc, but only when it’s fixed.
Ask On Page
An Arc Max feature that does work much more successfully is Ask On Page. Press Command + F on any web page and you can ask questions about the page’s contents.
The screenshot above, for example, shows an Ars Technica news story about a new Chromebook Plus specification. Instead of having to scroll down the page to find the spec, you can simply ask the AI to give you the minimum spec and it delivers the answer. There’s also a “find on page” link to jump straight to the relevant section of the story.
This feature would be ideal for getting information from particularly long pages, such as the Wikipedia pages for well-known politicians. However, there are limitations here.
When I visited the Wikipedia page for Bill Clinton and asked “who is Bill Clinton’s brother?” it replied that the “page was too long, so I read the first 18%”. The Browser Company is clearly worried about running up the AI bills!
Nevertheless, it delivered the correct answer, informing me the former president doesn’t have any biological brothers, only a half-brother.
Other AI Features
There are several other AI features as part of Arc Max, but they are equally erratic. Download a file with a non-sensical filename, such as picture with the name “454fh4.jpg” and the AI is meant to examine the photo and give it a more accurate description in your downloads folder. However, that only worked occasionally in my tests.
Likewise, when you’re pinning tabs, the AI tries to shorten the tab name and make it more readable, but I found this rarely generated anything better than the original, and sometimes made it worse.
The ability to open ChatGPT with a keyboard shortcut is useful, although once you’ve entered your initial prompt, you’re simply redirected to the ChatGPT website to continue the conversation, which makes the feature less compelling.
Arc Max has several great ideas of how to make AI indispensable in a browser, but the execution is currently lacking. The company says it will leave these AI features open for 30 days and let users decide which are most useful, before deciding which to keep.
It also seems inevitable that once that shortlist is finalized, it will begin charging for Arc Max. The developers will need to polish Arc Max if they hope to convince people to pay for it.