Yahoo, once arguably the most important Internet company but now reduced to profitable irrelevance, has just announced a somewhat surprising new product. Called Axis, the product is a browser for iOS devices and a browser-plugin for desktop computers.
While the promotional videos that accompanied the launch won’t impress anybody used to previous accomplished efforts from Google or Apple, Axis has a promising premise. It seeks, essentially, to integrate the search and browsing experience. In other words, Axis users will be able to transition from a search query to a website seamlessly without an intermediate step: browsing through pages upon pages of search results. Axis achieves this through an innovative, touch-optimized user interface.
Initial feedback suggests that Axis delivers on performance what it does not in marketing panache. (The launch seemed rushed. The final product shipped without complete terms and conditions. And there was a minor privacy hole that would have exposed user passwords and data. But the product works.)
Axis is something of a double-edged sword. On the one hand Yahoo does make a lot of money from the intermediate step that Axis seeks to bypass: search results pages. About a quarter of all Yahoo revenue, in fact.
But then Yahoo has struggled for years to deliver a mobile product of any note whatsoever. It missed the bus on Flickr, yielding the initiative to apps such as Instagram. So, the fact that Axis launches simultaneously, and with greater focus, on iOS devices is significant.
Yahoo continues to have a dedicated customer base all over the world. Maintaining that relationship across all platforms makes sense. Some might say that the company’s core clientele are unsophisticated users with high loyalty but low tendency to experiment. Axis seems designed to work very well for them, needing hardly any configuration and with intuitive controls.
Also in bypassing search results pages Yahoo is hoping to wean users off Google. Why waste time on a search engine when the search process is built into your browser?
Yahoo has lurched from crisis to crisis and CEO to CEO. It still makes money, but is no longer a contender like Google or Facebook. Axis is a step in the right direction. More than anything else it tells Yahoo customers that the company is not giving up yet.
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