Yahoo! searches for market share with Axis

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Yahoo's new search browser, Axis.
Yahoo's new search browser, Axis.

Yahoo has released Axis, a new browser that integrates with existing browsers and allows users to continue searches across devices, said Ethan Batraski, Yahoo's director of product management and search. Axis, which was in the works for about six months, is available as an app across iOS devices and as a desktop plug-in.

“Axis is an innovative and new approach to search that changes the traditional search process,” said Batraski. “With Axis, users enter their query and are brought directly to their results. Axis also provides users with rich visual previews and syncs across screens, including PCs, smartphones and tablets.”

The only user information Axis collects is the last page visited, which means users can resume browsing where they left off on their last device. Users must review and accept key privacy-oriented elements of Axis to activate the cross-device functionality, Batraski said.

As part of Yahoo's mobile first strategy, Batraski said the company built a mobile browser first and chose to create a plug-in to work with HTML5-enabled browsers, including Firefox 7+, Safari v5, Internet Explorer 9 and all versions of Chrome, instead of creating a new desktop browser.  

“Building a standalone desktop browser is a significant undertaking,” Batraski said.

Axis users can further share content through email, Pinterest and Twitter. The browser also allows users to personalize a homepage with favorite sites, saved articles and bookmarks across devices by signing into their Yahoo, Google or Facebook accounts.

Batraski said that while Yahoo's first priority is gaining users, it is in active discussions with advertisers about possible opportunities.

To promote the new product, Yahoo created three explanatory videos. The desktop plug-in video in particular is reminiscent of Apple Macintosh's 1984 commercial in which a blond in red shorts throws a sledgehammer into a giant screen. In the Axis commercial a man searching for how to grow habanero peppers literally breaks through several giant search screens while running through an empty warehouse.

“With Axis, we have redefined and re-architected the search and browse experience from the ground up,” said Shashi Seth, SVP, connections Yahoo, in a release.

But is Axis really going to revolutionize how search is performed?

“I don't think Axis changes search considerably and I will be surprised if this makes a big ripple in the market,” said Rebecca Lieb, digital advertising and media analyst for Altimeter Group. “The initial launch is coming out on limited platforms. If you're looking for a browser that competes on the level of search — that would be Chrome.”

Lieb also said Axis' visual previews are not new as Google has had Instant Previews since 2010. Additionally, while the visual previews may be easy to scroll through, users are seeing fewer results because they take up more real estate on screens, particularly when it comes to smaller devices.

While there is an advantage to working across different and existing browsers, Lieb remains skeptical that enough users will take the time to download the app or plug-in.

“It's very difficult to gain share in the browser market,” Lieb said. “Axis doesn't provide enough utility to supplant [existing] browsers.”

In contrast, Adam Dorfman a partner at SIM Partners, said he was instantly impressed with the product on mobile, though he was less convinced by the desk-top version.

“It's one of the better user experiences I've seen for search on mobile devices.” Dorfman said. “The search previews make getting to the site you want quicker ... than traditional Google searches.”

Dorfman said it is too early to tell whether Axis will start to eat into its competitors' market share. “Bing has released many fantastic improvements, but that hasn't had a huge impact on how much market share it's been able to acquire,” Dorfman said.

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