A web browser from Yahoo!? ‘Axis’ makes surprise debut

Here’s some news you probably didn’t expect to read today: Yahoo just released its own web browser.

The new software, dubbed Yahoo Axis, is being called a “search browser.” Its main trick is the ability to bypass the standard list of links and instead send users directly to websites and pages via thumbnails.

It’s a surprise in part because Axis also bypasses the ads that appear on search results pages — which would normally be a significant source of revenue for Yahoo.

Axis is already available as an iPad and iPhone app. Rather than releasing its own desktop browser, however, Yahoo is offering Axis plugins for Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari and Chrome. Once installed, the plugin appears as a search box at the bottom of the browser, expanding when a user enters a query.

CNET News reporter Rafe Needleman has been testing Axis and says it is actually good. He calls it “an aggressive product for the struggling Yahoo to launch out of its search group.”

Personally, I’ve been less impressed in my brief usage of the iPhone app. The user interface is difficult to maneuver and not very intuitive for someone coming to it cold. It tries to squeeze a ton of stuff into that little screen.

The desktop plugin, which comes in the form of a search bar at the bottom of the browser, is a better experience so far, but far from perfect. Using the Axis plugin for Chrome on a Mac, the search bar has been unresponsive at times when I’ve tried to enter a query.

Yahoo’s search results have been provided by Microsoft Bing since the companies agreed to collaborate on search technology and advertising. There’s no mention of the results being powered by Bing in the Axis app, at least not that I’ve been able to find. I’m checking with Microsoft to see if the Bing results are being used.

The news was apparently being held until later tonight, but it leaked out thanks to an email sent by someone from Yahoo and republished by the tech site Launch.

Yahoo has been through a tumultuous couple of years, with CEO Scott Thompson recently leaving the company after a scandal over his resume.

  • Guest

    Odd decision for Yahoo to make. What’s next, their own mobile phone or tablet?

    • ehm…no

       some time ago someone said that about google ;)

      • Guest

        This is more like what they said about Google prior to G+.

  • Bob

    “There’s no mention of the results being powered by Bing in the Axis app, at least not that I’ve been able to find.”

    Apparently they’re not. VentureBeat has an article that includes a discussion about that. Yahoo’s director of product management for search also makes some comments about MS that are sort of weird given the partnership between the two.

    • http://geekwire.com Todd Bishop

      Bob, I think this is the story you’re referring to. http://bit.ly/KRj5L3. Here’s the excerpt.

      >>>>>Bing has lately powering the Yahoo portal’s web search, but this has freed up Yahoo’s intellectual and engineering workforce “to rethink search… as a human experience in three steps,” said Batraski. … “No matter how much Google or Bing tries to innovate on that experience, it’s pretty much the same way it’s been for the past decade,” said Batraski. <<<<<

      I'm still waiting for confirmation, but my hunch is that Bing is actually powering the results under the hood.

      Yahoo's stated plan from the beginning (back in the Bartz era) was to innovate on the UI and let Microsoft handle the basic indexing, etc., and those comments by the Yahoo product manager don't preclude that. 

      Yahoo would need to be maintaining its own search index to be powering the results on its own, and that would take away one of the big efficiencies provided by the Microsoft partnership. If that is the case, it's a significant story and would say a lot about the state of the partnership.

      On another topic, I have to say, I don't understand all the glowing reviews for the mobile app. VentureBeat calls it "really awesome," but the more I use it, the more the UI feels like a mess. 

      I've also already uninstalled the Chrome plugin, it was just obnoxious waiting for it to load. I'll be surprised if this 'browser' gets any traction.

      • Bob

        Yes, that’s the one. Though I was referring more specifically to this:

        “Here’s how it works: You enter your search term, and Yahoo does some heavy lifting (not Bing-powered).”

        I agree it would be unusual if results aren’t ultimately coming from Bing. But then I found several of the comments in that article unfortunate, or at least I would if I was Yahoo’s partner MS.

        Haven’t tried either the iOS or plugins yet. So can’t add anything on usability/features.

        • http://geekwire.com Todd Bishop

          Missed that part, thanks. I’ll post an update if I can find anything out.

  • http://www.christopherbudd.com Christopher Budd

    First, – 10 points for branding (“Axis”? Didn’t anyone look in a history book about this little thing called World War II?).

    Second, I tend not to engage in predictions but I suspect this is going to go one of two ways.

    1. No is going to use it.
    2. People will start using it, and then it will crumple under security attacks and issues.

    A browser is the most targeted and attacked piece of software out there. And there’s a direct relationship between the time and resources put into building software and its security quality. Yahoo, sadly, doesn’t have a lot of financial resources and this is such a surprise that I can’t imagine this has been worked on very long. My gut tells me that security isn’t a priority in this, rush to market is. So if they do get eyeballs on it, I suspect that it will fall down quickly when the bad guys take a real look at it.

    • Guest

      They probably think enough time has passed and there’s a generic enough meaning that the WWII connection isn’t a show stopper.

      Your point about security though is a good one.

      • http://www.christopherbudd.com Christopher Budd

        Yeah, I know. History is much forgotten in this country. Nike made a spectacular goof that way recently: http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/trending-now/nike-black-tans-sneaker-accidentally-incites-outrage-among-160904943.html.

  • MagBill

    “CNET News reporter Rafe Needleman has been testing Axis and says it is actually good.”

    That line speaks volumes about Yahoo’s current brand perception.