The browser is now available for Mac, Windows, iOS, and Android under an open-source license in a version 0.7 release. That’s a reflection that the browser is still in a developmental stage, and there are, indeed, bugs for the team to fix, but when you take it for a ride, as I did, you see that it’s the start of something very interesting.
“The way we differentiate for most users, especially as we grow, is through speed, because no other browser blocks all the cookies that are third-party tracking, all the fingerprinting techniques, all the scripts that try to inject ads — we block all that stuff,” Eich said in an interview with VentureBeat. Pages load 40 percent faster on desktop and as much as four times faster on mobile, he said.
Content certainly does seem to come up quickly if you’re like me and not used to browsing with an ad blocker. Sure, that’s awesome. But the startup is taking a novel approach to the whole ad blocking discussion that will get some people interested even without the performance gains. From the browser’s “Bravery” menu, users can opt to “Stay ad supported on this site” or even “GiveBack to this site.” Simply put, end users are the ones in control, and their privacy is not invaded by default.
To ad block or not to ad block?
The rise of Brave comes at a time when ad blocking is a hot topic. Apple’s iOS 9 mobile operating system supports ad blocking through third-party apps. Prominent developer Marco Arment elected to pull his ad blocker from the App Store, noting that this type of technology can “hurt” some people. There are even blockers for ad blockers, like Sourcepoint and PageFair. So Eich and his team are being more nuanced. They actually want to make ads look nice across all kinds of websites, while making sure to keep them from slowing down the browsing experience. And Brave is only targeting ads based on browser usage data.
Ultimately, Brave is looking to attain some scale in order to pull off a successful revenue-sharing model that appeals to publishers. It’s aiming for 7 million users, Eich said. “We’re, like, a giant mega-publisher, an aggregator, and our users’ histories across a month represents, like, a super-website,” he said.
Brave is the latest new browser for early adopters to try. Last year, former Opera CEO Jon von Tetzchner launched the Vivaldi browser in beta. And in launching Windows 10, Microsoft rolled out Edge, its answer to popular browsers like Chrome and Firefox and its Internet Explorer successor. Neither of these is tackling the complexity of digital advertising in the way Brave is, however.
Based on Chromium
Eich is also joined by Elissa Shevinsky, formerly of Glimpse Labs, as the startup’s head of product.
What it’s like
Setting aside the performance of the Brave browser, it generally acts the way you would expect a modern browser to act. Many Chrome keyboard shortcuts work on desktop.
There are nifty user interface features, like tab previews as you roll your mouse over each tab, the ability to drag and drop even when you start dragging from the omnibox for searching and browsing, and a quick swap from the website title to the URL when you hover your mouse over that area. And any time you have more than a few tabs open — six in my case — the browser window opens an additional sort of sub-window. You can switch these sub-windows by clicking the dark bar right below the omnibox.
Preferences, a bookmark manager, a history section, and a download folder are all missing from this initial release of the browser, but they’ll ship in a later version within a few weeks, a spokesperson told VentureBeat in an email.
The Brave Vault can store users’ bookmarks, passwords, and anonymized browsing activity to make it easy to sync data across devices. Rather than require a username or email, the system relies on a universally unique identifier (UUID) that works like a QR code, the spokesperson wrote.
San Francisco-based Brave announced a $2.5 million seed round in November.
A blog post from Eich has more information on today’s launch.