Yahoo just joined the browser game. The veteran Web company, which has been struggling to define its focus for years, is suddenly betting on the mobile space with a new browser called Axis.
The product combines an iOS Web browser with a plugin for most major desktop browsers that syncs a user's Web history and bookmarks across their devices. How does Axis stack up?
Effective Design and Seamless Cross-Device Syncing
One feature that Axis offers - and should be standard in any tablet or smartphone Web browser - is its ability to sync bookmarks and recent activity across devices. Safari does this to some extent, but could go further. Frankly, this is one area in which Google could do a better job on iOS. Its official iPad app could almost serve as a Web browser, but it doesn't sync with a user's Chrome browsing or search history.
Web browsing is far too fractured across our desktops, smartphones and tablets. Axis makes a noble attempt to address this issue.
Yahoo has taken great care to ensure that Axis takes advantage of the tablet form factor when it comes to design. It reimagines search results and instead of presenting them as a list of links, shows tiled thumbnails that preview each page.
The design could be more mind-blowing, but it does a better job of being tablet-centric than a lot of other search and browsing apps.
We understand that the whole purpose of this product is to keep users engaged with Yahoo's brands (and ultimately drive search volume and ad dollars), but its aggressive efforts feel excessive.
For example, when we type the letter "f" into the search query box, the auto-suggestions are Yahoo Finance, Yahoo Fantasy Baseball, Yahoo Horoscopes and Flickr. Not Facebook. Not any commonly-used search query term that start with "f." This is something that Google would get lambasted for doing. It doesn't serve the user anywhere near as well as it serves Yahoo.
Social Integration: The Pros and Cons
Like any Web browser worth using, Axis has social sharing options built right into the toolbar. Twitter is there, of course. Its Pinterest integration is tighter than we've ever seen in a browser, which is nice to see with such a young social network.
Conspicuously absent, however, is the world's largest social network. Facebook doesn't make an appearance in the browser's default sharing options, nor does Tumblr or any other popular tool besides Pinterest, Twitter and good old-fashioned email. Weird.
Social integration in any app needs to go deeper than simple sharing buttons at this point. The Dolphin browser is a good model to follow in this regard.
Wait, Is This a Browser or a Search App?
Yahoo is marketing this as a new browser, but is it really? Sure, it can navigate to any URL on the Web, but it feels more geared toward searching, which makes sense considering who built it.
People who uses Yahoo's Web services - and there are quite a lot of them - will likely find Axis to be pretty useful. Any hope Yahoo had of making headway into the mobile browser space, however, is limited by Apple's refusal to allow users to change the default browser on iOS devices.
There's so much potential that exists in the tablet browser space in particular. Apple certainly hasn't fulfilled it. In launching what sometimes feels like a glorified search engine for iOS, Yahoo doesn't quite fulfill it either, but overall the effort is a step in the right direction.