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Launch HN: Insight (YC W19) – an iOS browser with easy-to-make extensions
81 points by archajain 45 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 48 comments
Hi HN!

I'm Archa, one of the cofounders of Insight Browser (https://insightbrowser.com/). We let you deeply customize your search and browsing experience on iOS. You can create extensions on the phone itself, using simple if-then conditions and often without writing any code. For more advanced extensions, you can use JS.

14 years after iOS Safari brought the mobile browser to near-parity with desktop, most mobile browsers are still one-size-fits-all, but the internet isn't one-size-fits-all. It's very long tailed, both in content and in how differently people use it. There is now a generation of users growing up with iOS who still crave the power that's available on desktop. Some mobile browsers come bundled with ad-blocking, and there is a limited way to do extensions in Safari, but extensibility on mobile has been nowhere near desktop. Apple has restricted what developers can do with WKWebView, so we started to look into whether there's ways to work with that but preserve most of the usefulness of extensions.

We surveyed existing extensions on the Chrome extensions store and realized that most of them fit one of two patterns — augment pages with content or remove content from pages. (There's a third major category of scrapers or dev tools, but we felt that was less relevant for a mobile browser) Inspired by that and frustrated by missing what we had on desktop, we built Insight, where 90% of extensions can be built on the phone with if-then conditions (e.g. if searching Amazon, then search Google Shopping with the same query). Extensions are designed for mobile first. They are swipe gesture friendly and don't clutter up pages. For more advanced extensions, you can use Javascript to write a script that's injected into webpages you pick. For example, the extension to invert bright website colors for better dark mode (https://share.insightbrowser.com/10) works like this.

Some of my personal favorite extensions on Insight right now are — Detect fake Amazon reviews (using Fakemeta) and set price alerts (using CamelCamelCamel); Open a page with cookies disabled or a JS-free version of the page (https://share.insightbrowser.com/11); Make reading articles easier by injecting eye-guiding color gradient on the text (powered by Beeline Reader).

Extensions are automatically suggested as you browse pages, simplifying discovery. We do not log identifiable user data, and if you want to be extra safe about privacy, you can disable all communication with our servers in the settings.

Insight is still very early. On iOS, it's built on top of Firefox. We're excited about open sourcing the iOS Insight codebase once it's better documented, as well as making Insight available on Android and desktop soon. (Btw, if any of this is interesting to you, we're hiring: https://jobs.ashbyhq.com/insight-browser)

A couple of caveats — we don't currently support Apply Pay through Insight. Apple does not allow a regular WKWebView to use Apple Pay, just Safari and SFSafariViewController (https://developer.apple.com/documentation/apple_pay_on_the_w...). We also cannot support syncing bookmarks from other iOS browsers directly, because apps can not access each other's data in any way on iOS. We are however working on a way to import bookmarks from your desktop browsers, and hoping to push that soon!

We'd love to hear what you think of Insight. You can download it on iOS at https://insightbrowser.com/. Please tell us your feedback and ideas. We'd love to help you customize the web as you see fit!

Extensible browsers are true "user-agents"! Congratulations on the launch.

As uMatrix user, I see a lot of potential, and love the no-code approach to let users build extensions themselves to suit their needs. Can't wait to see this go cross-platform: I get it is going to take a while but any tentative dates for Linux (deb) and Android flavours?

That said, I want to point that the FAQ on the homepage for "What about privacy?" is a bit incomplete, "Insight disables trackers by default with a much larger blocklist than Safari. It uses server-side logic to suggest extensions as you browse. This data is never logged, but you can also turn this setting off so Insight does not make any calls to its servers at all."

'Cause the privacy policy [0] reveals that Insight may collect information including IP addresses, device-ids, location, and browsing history and share them with third-parties; which is not really what a few folks (like me) who block trackers in expectation of better privacy (and not just speed) want to hear, especially with the monetization strategy unclear at this stage.

[0] https://archive.is/q4u4R

Thank you! That's a good catch, our FAQ was slightly out of date, and the privacy policy is the most recent. I've updated the FAQ and apologize for that lack of total clarity. We want to be as transparent as possible because our business plan is going to work around a paid tier and we have no intention of data exploitation. Insight does send browsing data to servers to suggest extensions — we'd like to move this logic client side but right now the complexity around search extensions in particular requires server side logic and logging, similar to how even DuckDuckGo has to log. This is a core value proposition of Insight and how it simplifies the browsing experience. However, you can turn off all communication with Insight servers in the settings if you'd like even more privacy. We want our users to be comfortable using Insight, so let me know if there's anything else that bothers you.

This looks cool! Since Insight is based on Firefox, it there any chance Firefox sync will be added? Or perhaps sync for Chrome/Edge?

This reminds me of Kitt Browser, which brought some of the Chrome extension APIs to iOS. Eyeo acquired it to make Adblock Browser for iOS, and Kitt has since been removed from the App Store.

Some resources relating to it are still online [1, 2] and Adblock Browser, which is derived from Kitt Browser, is open source [3, 4].

[1]: https://github.com/kitt-browser

[2]: https://youtube.com/watch?v=nfoWMgNYMkE

[3]: https://github.com/adblockplus/adblockbrowserios-core

[4]: https://github.com/adblockplus/adblockbrowserios

Thank you! We’re looking into building sync now (it’s the most requested feature for us right now), trying to make it work not just with Firefox but all popular browsers. Thanks for pointing to Kitt, I’ll check it out.

Any iOS browser can't be based on firefox since apple does not allow it. At most it can be a shell around webkit.

They're referring to the Firefox iOS app, which is open source. https://github.com/mozilla-mobile/firefox-ios

Firefox on iOS has more in common with safari than it has with firefox on Win/Linux/OSX. I didn't say it wasn't open source, but regardless of that it still cannot run any other engine than apple mandates.

That’s generally known and understood, what are you trying to clarify here? Nobody said it was a non WebKit browser.

Hello, can you add the tamperymonkey / Greasemonkey extension or others of this kind to add scripts from greasyfork? Ublock origin wouldn't be bad either. The top, however, would be full compatibility with firefox extensions. If you can already do it please take a step by step guide. Thank's for your job.

Agreed to all!

The userscripts should be relatively close to what you guys do right now.

It looks like you collect a lot of device and browsing related data according to your privacy policy. What is your business model and why should I trust you with my data?

Insight suggests extensions while you browse -- this helps the most useful extensions get discovered at the right time. To enable this, browsing information is sent to Insight servers. However, this is not ever stored in connection to your personal information (email, etc). Also, if you're still not sure, we let you disable all communications with Insight servers entirely in app settings.

This is a red flag for me, to be honest.

We all know how "we will never store this" becomes "we will never sell this" becomes "well, we need to make money", all with privacy policy changes that no-one reads.

Extension suggestions can also be implemented client side.

That’s fair tbh. Implementing this server side has let us iterate faster and get this out the door. I think implementing it client side is better however. Till we get there, we let you turn this feature off entirely and just use client side features, which still lets you utilize extensions.

You can offer this feature without sending unnecessary information to your servers. You did it the easy way instead of the "right way".

You need to re-think your architecture to do these checks locally in-browser in order to protect user privacy. If you're concerned about scaling issues, take inspiration from how Google Safe Browsing works (local hash prefix matching & partial hash queries).

Not sure they NEED to do anything...

Can I ask what the business model is? I'm quite liking the browser, but not sure whether I'm being sold in order to use it for free.

We're working on a set of paid features for Insight, which we expect will be subscription based. I'm glad you're enjoying Insight so far!

> we don't currently support Apply Pay through Insight. Apple does not allow a regular WKWebView to use Apple Pay, just Safari and SFSafariViewController

Apple added Apple Pay to WKWebView in iOS 13. Release notes are here:


It won’t work for you out of the box because you inject scripts onto the page, which automatically disables Apple Pay for that view. But I expect you can do something useful here, like detect when a page is attempting to use Apple Pay and present a new view with injected scripts disabled and a note to the user about what has happened. Having Apple Pay work in an unmodified WKWebView is probably better than not having it work in a modified WKWebView.

Oh that's great to know, my information was totally stale. I <3 HN. Thank you!

It would be great if you had extensions for LinkedIn and Twitter that eliminated posts like "Person X liked this" or "Person X commented". I hate that there's no way to use these platforms the way we used to: just to see stuff that was posted (or reposted) by first-degree contacts.

I now use both Twitter and LinkedIn via the web because I find the apps to be annoying (and for the most part, unnecessary). It would be great if you could take the functionality to the next level by allowing content blocking that removed the massive cruft that these platforms bombard us with.

That's a really good idea! We're going to take a pass at building that.

I just moved over to iOS from android, trying to use chrome mostly because of sync. I see that's already been requested, but my biggest gripe right now are tab management. Why does chrome have such a bad tab manager, it's much better on android. I like your way of doing this, but why not mimic the way safari does tabs, it's much easier to close tabs, especially after I noticed on iOS where every new search opens up a new tab, and persists. On andorid, if I did a search there was no tab once I searched something else

Yep, tab management is tricky to get right. We've designed the experience on Insight to make it really easy to close tabs with one tap for exactly this reason (I personally hate it when my browser has a million tabs open), and to bulk close tabs from the tab manager. Safari handles this really nicely as well, I think we have some room for improvement. I like the idea of not persisting search sessions, that would be interesting to explore on iOS. Thanks for the feedback!

Sure thing, since im only a week into iOS, i'm changing my default to insight, will give more feedback as i use it!

I look forward to it!

This is absolutely awesome. I make heavy use of ViolentMonkey and Stylus for my desktop experience, and after a decade of iPhone use, I feel I can replicate my desktop browsing habits on my phone.

I have a question about security, as I started porting my *Monkey scripts over, I notice there’s no API around access or security. If domain-specific extensions are shared in the community, what’s to prevent someone from developing a malicious script POSTing someone’s document.cookies to a DB?

The Javascript API is unrestricted at the moment so that is possible right now. That's why we make it a point to warn people to only install JS extensions from a trusted source right now, e.g. https://extensions.insightbrowser.com/extend/f15fa88b79

Would it be possible to have paid extensions? I mean, let's say a I got an extension on Google Chrome which I sell with Gumroad and I'd like to integrate it with your web browser as well.

Yes, we're very excited to work with extension developers! But there's 2 important things to consider:

Apple's terms clearly don't allow us building a store within the app (Fortnite vs. Apple) so we're not going to distribute paid extensions directly but it sounds like you use Gumroad and probably a secret link to distribute?

Also, there's some OS enforced limitations on compared to the full WebExtensions spec, but if you share the extension with me, I'm happy to take a look. I'm abhinav@insightbrowser.com if you'd like to reach out directly.

Out of curiosity: how can a YC startup take two years to launch a product?

Haha we had a major pivot last year. We started off building a search engine and browser for doctors. We realized they would be much better served through a customized browsing experience. Then we realized everyone could benefit from being able to deeply customize their browsing easily.

So glad to have found out about you guys deep in a HN thread back in 2020. I've enjoyed participating in the beta testing and have discovered features like one-tap-to-close, which I never realized I wanted in a browser. So much better than the 2-3 taps often required to close browser tabs in other browsers!

It's also been great working with you on the dev side, as you ported my Chrome extension to Insight. You made quick work of getting BeeLine Reader into your Reader Mode, and I've heard from many of our users who have switched over to your browser as a result. Really excited to be working with you and seeing how you transform web browsing on iOS!

Thank you! It's been great working with you too and BeeLine is now one of my favorite extensions, can't imagine reading long articles without it.

This looks like a great idea! How is dev tools support?

Thank you! Extensions are either no-code or use vanilla Javascript.

For no-code extensions, the logic is represented in simple base64 encoded JSON.

For extensions that use Javascript, it's a very simple model where a script is injected at the end using Javascript. You can develop these using just console on any regular desktop browser's JS console and mobile emulator (Firefox, Edge, Chrome, etc.)

Big miss here is iOS shortcuts.

I would work now on adding shortcuts for automating browser actions & interacting with content.

Thanks for the feedback, we've been hearing occasionally about iOS shortcuts and are looking into how to best integrate them.

I'd love to hear some workflow examples of things you'd automate that involve the browser. That would really help us guide how to elegantly integrate shortcuts.

How about a fully fledged ad blocker?

We’ve tried to make it as powerful as the platform allows — there are limitations to how large iOS allows the blocklist to be.

What other features from Adblockers are you missing with Insight that would be helpful?

Note that a block list doesn't have to be large to block most ads and trackers. It just requires an efficient block list that is well maintained, consolidates rules into general items and aggressively removes any redundant rules.

Our ad blocker (https://www.magiclasso.co/) on iOS / macOS has less than 5,000 rules and performs as well as, it not better, than other ad blockers with larger rule sets. We're also happy to partner with like minded startups – feel free to get in touch if you're interested in working together.

> as well as, it not better, than other ad blockers with larger rule sets

Prove it?

What type of user who would you say gets the most value out of building Insight extensions?

I would say the general persona is power user/tinkerer types who really like customizing their experience but until now really couldn't on mobile. However there's people who come to the browser for a very specific extension (e.g. improving their search for recipes http://share.insightbrowser.com/12), and the world of extensions is very long tailed because you can spin up their own in under a minute.

this is awesome - congrats on the launch - I just downloaded it! personally I can't wait to be able to make my dream extension that blocks posts of cats on Reddit so that I can actually browse it.

Awesome, excited to hear what you think!

Here's hoping Apple doesn't slap you down for this. The frustration I've faced while packaging iOS apps has permanently soured it for me, I hope you don't put you through the ringer.

I’ve looked through their terms and we’re in the clear, but :fingers-crossed:

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