Late last year, Yahoo filed for a trademark on the phrase “Yahoo Axis.” The filing raised more questions than answers at the time, but after six months Yahoo has finally spilled the proverbial beans — Axis is both a new search-oriented add-on for your web browser, and a new browser app for iOS.
Before I talk about what it’s like to actually use Axis, let’s first discuss why the hell they’re doing this in the first place. TechCrunch spoke to Yahoo’s Director of Product Management Ethan Batraski, and he told us his his job has been to figure out what search looks like over the next few years. Yahoo Axis was one of his answers.
“No one’s innovated on ‘How do I get rid of the search results page altogether’”, Batraski said. “That is what we want to do.”
That’s exactly what they did. Once you download, install, and log into Axis with your Yahoo credentials (you do have Yahoo credentials, don’t you?), a small back bar will begin to live in the bottom left corner of your preferred web browser. Right now Axis plugs into Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Internet Explorer, though Batraski didn’t completely rule out the possibility of Yahoo eventually releasing their own browser should there be enough interest.
That little black pill has a search bar nestled in it, and mousing over it causes it to stretch across the bottom of your browser window. Actually clicking in the search box and plugging in a search query makes the bar expand to fill roughly the bottom third of your browser window, displaying easily-scannable thumbnails of Yahoo’s search results.
Yahoo’s idea here is to give their (or perhaps more accurately, Microsoft’s) search engine its own flexible space to live in outside of the traditional browser paradigm. With Axis installed, users who need to find things online don’t need to tear themselves away from the page they’re currently looking at by navigating to a different page or opening a new tab. There’s no question that it takes a little getting used to — as a longtime Chrome user, it’s become second nature to open a new tab a bang a search query into the address bar — but it’s been very thoughtfully executed.
When Axis works (which is most of the time) it works very well. Occasionally, the black search box will fail to close properly, leaving behind a partial remnant of the last search result thumbnail in its place.
Perhaps one of the most annoying things about Axis (at least on a Mac) is scrolling horizontally through the thumbnails of search results. Users can click and drag through them with a mouse or hit buttons mounted to the left or right of the results panel, but scrolling side to side with a trackpad can be tricky. It causes the results to move over three results at a time, which sometimes means you miss seeing some results.It’s a relatively minor point of contention (and one that’s probably easy to fix), but still, there you have it.
But Axis on the desktop is only one part of the equation — its other half lives on your iPhone (or your iPad). Yahoo has also whipped together a standalone browser app for iOS that seeks to bring that same revamped search experience to the mobile space.
This is where Yahoo actually manages to make me swoon a little bit. The iOS app is surprisingly good — it’s more than handsome enough, it runs very smoothly (thanks mostly to its WebKit underpinnings), and your bookmarks sync between devices quickly once you make sure you’re logged in. I’ll also admit right here that I’m a bit of a sucker for their font choices, but let’s not dwell on that.
If anything, the big thumbnails for search results play out even better on a small screen. There’s no angling to make sure your finger touches the link just right. That said, I’m not sure it’ll be replacing the stock Browser app for me — what’s great about Axis for the desktop is that it fits into whatever browser you’ve decided you like enough to use. On iOS though, there’s no way to set a default browser so it takes a conscientious effort to use Axis there.
For now, the Axis browser app remains an iOS exclusive. It’s not entirely impossible that we’ll see a version make its way onto Android someday, though I imagine Google may not take too kindly to a another search company trying to set foot in their territory.
Batraski referred to Axis as an “experiment,” but to my utter pleasure, it’s a pretty damned good one. Is it enough to make a dyed-in-the-wool Googler convert? Probably not, but with nearly 700 million users still using Yahoo, I reckon a solid chunk will find something to enjoy here.