Maybe we need to file this under “too little too late” or “where was this 12 months ago when we really wanted it?” But Yahoo proves it still is capable of churning out some good product, even as its executive halls seem like a train wreck. They wisely shuttered the underwhelming Livestand news aggregator product, which I never got to work especially well. But in the same breath they released a genuinely interesting mobile browser that maps nicely against the visually oriented and touch-aware iPad and iPhone.
The Axis browsing system is very much geared toward search by way of discovery. Tapping the search/address bar pulls in trending topics, but the engine’s suggestion function also brings up thumbnails of hits. You just scroll laterally across the results. The whole search scheme is perfectly tuned to the tablet experience in that respect. And to their credit, the Yahoo browser is exceptionally fast. The super bar also integrated answers. If I query movies, it surfaces a map and link to my nearest theater. “Weather” pushes out local results.
I especially like the Settings menu that allows you to set the browser so it is recognized as an iPad, an iPhone or as a desktop browser. The private browsing mode is also right there as an easy toggle, and the tabs navigation is very visual.
But of course it wouldn’t be Yahoo without some weirdness. As long as I have known this brand and reviewed its output, it always overplays its brand hand. The Yahoo logo is too insistent, as are its search results and trending content silos. The favorites are pre-populated with Yahoo stuff, and until I can find a way to import bookmarks from my other browsers (Safari at least?) I won’t use it as much as I would like. And I still haven’t been able to log in to my old Yahoo account or properly create a new one here. The verification email never showed up. Too bad, because rumor has it that that Axis offers a seamless cross-screen experience for those logged in on iPad, iPhone and PC. I should be able to look at a site on one platform and actually pick it up where I left off on another.
Well, that is the theory, at least. Still waiting for my verification email to show.
But the best part of this browser is that it actually recalls some of the roots of Yahoo in its pre-portal days. Remember when it was a directory -- when we went there to discover, not search, the Web? Those were the days when we really did “surf” the digital waves. There is a bit of that here. They have effectively retrieved some of that early discovery spirit when digital media and the rush of data felt so new. By focusing on the visual in this browser -- showing rather than just telling what is out there -- Axis speaks a bit of a different tablet language. It actually makes you want to plug in familiar search terms just to see the results in a more visual way, relying on a different set of cues.
In some ways Yahoo surprises us in this product -- not by being its same old self, but by recalling its old, old self.