Yahoo!, once the darling of the early Internet, has fallen on hard times. In the past few years, the company has tried a number of new paths to make it more relevant to the modern web, but none of them have been able to recapture the company’s glory days. Now, Yahoo! has unveiled a new visual-based web browser called Axis for iPad, iPhone, and as a desktop browser-plugin designed to unify your online experience between all your devices.
On an iPad or iPhone, Axis functions as a standalone web browser. Search is the main feature here, no doubt trying to get people using the actual core function of Yahoo!’s business. Axis users will see “trending” pages, presumably based on popular Yahoo! searches when they fire up the app. Typing in a search will bring up related searches, and will show you results in the form of visual previews of the pages.
You know, kind of like Google.
On a desktop computer, Axis eschews trying to compete with Google Chrome, Firefox, and the rest by taking the form of a browser plugin. Similar to the ol’ Google search bar, Axis resides at the bottom of the screen as a small search bar. Typing into the field will pull up autocompleted searches, with instant visual previews. Cleverly, Axis can pull your previous searches from your iPad or iPhone, creating a seamless web browsing experience.
Here’s an introduction of the new browser, showing off its cross-platform capabilities by “Scott,” the product manager for the project.
And here’s a somewhat bewildering ad that Yahoo has produced to promote Axis. To be honest, I don’t think it’s as effective as the clean, almost Apple-like demo video. The image of a rugged “punk” guy jumping through websites seems decidedly dated, and how he managed to grow enormous peppers with just a touch of his hand is a mystery. Perhaps Axis gives you magical powers?
Despite this weird ad, there are a number of smart decisions behind Axis. First, concentrating on the iPad and iPhone as the mobile half of the Axis experience ties the new browser to popular, high-end brands. It’s also a very smart move not to enter the browser market directly — it’s already overcrowded and highly competitive. By launching an app and a browser plugin, Yahoo! sidesteps having to convince people to change their web surfing habits.
The point of all this is to get Yahoo! back in front of people and, perhaps more importantly, get them using Yahoo! services. Though the company hasn’t expressly described how the browser synching will work, I have to imagine that a Yahoo! account is required at some level.
According to CNET, while the desktop version may seem lacking, the mobile experience is superb. From CNET:
Mobile is where the action is, so it makes sense that Yahoo threw the bulk of its development love into the tablet and smartphone versions. On the iPad, Axis is simply a great browser. The integrated search feature is intuitive, and being able to move through search results without having to go back to search makes sense. After only a few minutes using it I thought, Why hasn’t Google done this yet? It’s that good.
Despite these smart moves from Yahoo!, I have a hard time seeing this taking off in any kind of meaningful way. The Google search bar successfully got people using Google, but it actually provided a service that browsers lacked at the time: Dead simple web search, built right in. Though the synching between devices is useful, that alone doesn’t seem like a strong enough feature.
That said, it’s honestly refreshing to see something positive coming from Yahoo!. Perhaps Axis’ slick design and clever features might be the shot-in-the-arm that Yahoo! has been looking for. Those interested can download the iPad and iPhone versions from the Apple app store, and the desktop plugin here.