Yahoo! Axis

Yahoo! has released their “Axis” web-browsing search solution. It is a three-pronged attack on Google, Microsoft, and Mozilla, targeting their browsers on the desktop along with Apple’s iPhone and iPad devices. The goal is to unify your search and browsing experience across these platforms, while presenting a visual form of search results that is particularly effective on Cupertino’s touch devices.

I’ve been longing for a replacement for Safari on my iPad. I really don’t care for the interface, specifically how it handles bookmarks. There are pop-over menus, menus nested within menus (depending on how your bookmark folders are arranged) — and the bookmarks bar has little to no separation from the rest of the browser, making it difficult to use without accidentally tapping a tab or the address bar.

Enter Axis on the iPad, which appears to be a pretty wrapper for the iOS webkit. It’s got a clean, slick look, and search results and bookmarks are presented as large, touchable images. A page can be easily added to a ‘Read Later” list or your Bookmarks by tapping a familiar star-shaped button, and organizing these bookmarks is easily done with touching and dragging. The display of these elements stands out for me, as they feel large and lush. Safari on iOS feels so very dated and drab by comparison.

Axis on the desktop functions as an HTML5 plug-in/extension/add-on for Safari, Chrome, Internet Explorer, and Firefox. It does not install as a toolbar, but instead places a small overlay onto the pages you visit, and it exists in the lower left hand corner of the window. In this ‘minimized’ form, the toolbar has three functions: Search, Add Bookmark, and Home. These are not customizable. Mouse-over this overlay and it expands across the bottom of the browser window to also permit a login to Yahoo’s services, and access to your Bookmarks… on the very far right of the screen. Inconvenient.

In my opinion, the Add Bookmark, Home, and Show Bookmarks buttons should all be available in one place, on one side of the screen. On a widescreen monitor, it can mean a fair bit of mouse-tracking to get from the lower left corner of the screen (to ‘maximize’ the Axis bar) to the far right (to click the Bookmarks button). A small gripe, but it is worth noting. Having the Axis bar as a proper toolbar in the respective browsers would not be bad, either — though I do recognize that not every browser handles such extensions the same way.

Another downside of the browser plug-in: The Axis bar will not appear if you are using an add-on like NoScript for Firefox and happen to be blocking the root domain of the site you are currently on. If you then allow scripts from this domain, the Axis bar appears. This is not a problem for sites already on your whitelist, but any new sites you visit will need to be whitelisted as well to access the very fundamental aspect of Axis. Very inconvenient. Also, if you open a new tab in Firefox, and that tab is blank, the Axis bar will not appear — you effectively have no access to the Axis search or bookmarking functions at that point. Again, very inconvenient.

On the iOS side of things, my greatest complaint is my not having access to a password manager Lastpass in the Axis browser. In Safari, I can use a Lastpass bookmarklet to handle my logins for the sites I visit, but Axis appears to have no such functionality. That might be a feature for Yahoo to explore — purchase Lastpass (or the controlling company) and integrate it as your password manager. Score points by offering the standalone version that already exists, but also make it a strong feature of Axis. Just a thought!

In conclusion, I think Axis is a bold direction for Yahoo! to take. It shows they aren’t to be counted out yet, and they have produced a compelling, unifying browsing and searching solution across three popular platforms: computer, iPhone, and iPad. The strengths of their offering shows in the iOS app. The browser plug-in piece definitely needs work — it needs to have a more permanent home within the respective browsers it supports, if it is to become a ‘hub’ for searching and bookmarks, as it is designed to be.

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