Opinion: Actually, the new ‘Mighty’ browser is the ‘Chrome Cloud Tabs’ feature I’ve been waiting for
Mighty is a new browser project that puts Google Chrome in the cloud and streams it to your PC. While I don’t know if Mighty will end up making sense for my personal situation, it does perfectly resemble a product I’ve found myself hoping Google itself would build as a feature in Chrome. How worthwhile is Mighty itself, though? And will (should) Google copy it?
First, the “should the ‘web’ be apps or documents?” debate. We all know where various Silicon Valley companies land on this. If you don’t, it’s basically the “Google side,” which is that the web is a glorious operating system built on technologies that naturally supplant the need for many native applications (hence things like Chrome OS and Instant Apps), and the “Apple side,” which is that the web should primarily be lightweight, static documents and native apps are best place to build more involved use cases.
The convergence of these two lines of thinking are where we all live today. Web apps have taken over the world, but depending on the platform you use or the task, there’s lots of native applications to use as well. But the reality is that a good percentage of people do use the web as an OS whether that’s “good” or not. This reality is pervasive. Electron apps, for example, which are basically web apps in a native macOS app container, are pervasive on the Mac, and very controversial.
Will Mighty solve Chrome web app drawbacks?
That world isn’t without its ills. Enter Mighty, a new app that wants to make web apps feel more like highly-optimized native apps and eliminate the various bottlenecks that make using lots of apps in Chrome at the same time a drag. So the first question is for those people that run into this issue occasionally (I am one of them) — does Mighty (as pitched today) realistically or practically solve two problems: Running lots of web apps in Chrome being 1) a RAM hog and 2) a battery hog?
(As an aside, there’s actually something of a parallel with Electron apps, which basically solve a problem (needing to build-it-once-and-fast-and-ship-it-everywhere) by… putting things in a container. Mighty solves the limitations of Chrome’s resource hogginess by… putting it in a container. This probably makes the entire idea of Mighty a non-starter for lots of native-app-purists, but not for me, really.)
From what I can tell, Mighty does what it says it does on the tin, which is offload all the resource-hungry parts of Chrome to the cloud, meaning the only thing your local PC has to do is just stream a video feed. Mighty obviously does all the tricks necessary to send your keyboard and mouse input to the cloud, as well as connect itself to all the normal browser connections to other areas of your desktop (default browser, links, downloads, etc.).
Mighty has its own drawbacks, though. For one, it’s expensive (supposedly $30+/mo), and two, as mentioned, it sends all your keystrokes and the entirety of your browser activity through Mighty’s servers. Mighty is also up against ongoing hardware innovation that makes this less a problem for people over time (see: M1 battery efficiency and super fast RAM swaps).
Given all these various factors, my initial impression is that Mighty does indeed makes sense and solves a real problem (today) for a tiny subset of Chrome users. Someone running four instances of Figma, swapping between four Slack channels, and editing 15 Google Docs at once, and wants to do all that on relatively underpowered hardware. A newer Mac could handle all of that surprisingly well, but a 2015 MacBook Pro with 8GB of RAM is still a perfectly usable machine but would struggle.
But even then, Mighty is a monthly subscription mostly competing with the idea of just… buying better hardware. The “M2” Macs are coming later this year, and if the initial run of M1 machines is anything to go by, a lot of these “my computer gets bogged down and battery drains because of too many tabs running web apps” complaint is on the verge of ending for many people! (And it never existed for desktop users, or those already using devices the tippy-top of the specs pyramid.)
I think it’s safe to say that the kind of people that would be reading this article or would even know what Mighty is are those who are least likely to need it in the nearing future?
Is Mighty a feature or a product (or should it be one or the other)?
In tandem with my answer to the first question of whether Mighty actually solves a problem, which I think is a “yes, sort of, probably, for some very specific subset of web professionals in certain circumstances, and even then it’s maybe not economical,” the next question is, given that, “does Mighty make more sense as a feature or a product?”
Here, I land firmly in the “Mighty makes way more sense as a feature” camp. A Chrome feature, to be exact.
One big thing is scaling. Mighty is a startup and can only scale so fast (not fast at all)! They apparently have some kind of proprietary backend and have to be careful not to frontload tons of server hardware before the demand exists! Mighty’s founder admits as much on their Product Hunt page:
We’re kind of this hybrid software and hardware company. We must buy and capacity plan building lots of custom servers (unlike pure software) and must do so across the world to achieve low latency. That means it’s tough to scale instantly world-wide without Google-level resources.
Google already has the scale! I often feel like my 2018 $2,500 MacBook Pro with 16GB of RAM doesn’t handle my web app multitasking very well in terms of battery and performance, and one of my very first thoughts when Stadia launched was “Why doesn’t Google let me run a Chrome tab in this?”
I know it’s not popular to root for Google, a tech monolith, and against Mighty, a startup that’s clearly put in tons of money and effort trying to solve a real pain point, but I really can’t help but do it here.
This is definitely a feature I want, but I just can’t see myself (or anyone, really): 1) paying a hefty subscription for this in the long run, 2) trusting a startup with all the web keystrokes, or 3) needing this thing bad enough to choose it over simply upgrading hardware — especially when this service also needs a constant high-speed internet connection.
So if I were to guess the fate of Mighty today, that would be it. It will either be acquired or sherlocked by Google within 12 months. It’ll be called “Chrome Cloud Tabs,” and it’ll run on Stadia infrastructure, and it’ll be tied to your Google One subscription. It’s awesome to imagine I could open a new tab in Chrome that runs on Stadia servers and streams to my desktop for those rare contexts where I’d be OK with the trade-offs.
I’m not going to get into the technicalities and possible reasons this hasn’t happened already, but it’s probably some combination of the privacy concerns, the economics, and various technical restraints that are keeping Google from doing it the right way. Or maybe Google has done the due diligence and come away with the conclusion that it’s not a good long term bet for one or more of the reasons I outlined.
But whenever the stars do align, if they align, it’s certainly a feature I’d use. Not all the time, but I’d use it, and I’d maybe even upgrade my Google One subscription for the luxury.
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