Internet giant Yahoo! promised to unveil something big this week. That something is Axis, a new visual-based search engine.
Available as a web browser extension and as an iOS app, Axis forgoes a simple list of your search results. Instead, users browse through page previews, making for a more visually appealing method of searching.
The company made a big stink about it being a rival to traditional search engines, but it would take a quick test-drive to validate their claims.
A Chrome killer that uses Chrome...?
Axis on Google Chrome simply sits at the bottom-left of your browser window, looking more like a glorified toolbar than anything else. But there's more to it than that however...
Essentially, you have a search field, bookmarks button and home button available to you. But it's on the search side of things that Axis stands out.
Axis differs from other search engines in the way it presents itself, with search queries and image results all showing within the app window itself. So, any webpage you have open in the background remains untouched until you decide to visit the relevant page.
It's a convenient way of doing things, especially when all you wanted to do was conduct a simple query. Users can also open links in a new tab if they'd like, preserving their existing tabs.
The image search functionality is another convenient feature, with rows of images to click through in the window. Clicking on an image brings up a minimalistic lightbox, featuring the blown-up image and a link to the original website. It's all very pleasing, with users able to click through search results in the lightbox as well.
Highlighting the Axis taskbar extends the bar along the bottom of the screen, giving you a "login" button, Yahoo! shortcut, search toggle and a few more options.
On Chrome, Axis was a relatively smooth experience, with the extension loading relatively quickly upon browser start-up. Additionally, the service also lets you synchronise your browsing across devices, grabbing your bookmarks and other browsing data.
A long way to go for mobile
Yahoo! Axis is available on iOS as a mobile application, marking a drastic departure from the browser extension.
The app includes a built-in Safari browser, so there's no need to jump to and from the native browser.
The application makes pretty good use of the touchscreen, with simple taps bringing up different screens. The screens are all "layered" as well, with the browser window appearing on top of the search results screen and so on.
The iOS app also includes support for social sharing via Pinterest, email and Twitter. It's a neat touch, especially the Pinterest feature, however there's no Facebook option, it would seem.
The biggest problem with Yahoo! Axis on iOS is stability, at least on the iPod Touch. In the first 20 minutes, the app managed to crash three times. Granted, the application has just been released, but it's definitely an issue we'd like to see resolved.
Additionally, the user-interface still had a few quirks that needed ironing out, like imprecise navigation for one. I found myself having to double-tap a few times because I activated the iOS dropdown bar or because I accidentally activated something else.
The user-interface also makes use of elements that would've been better served by swipes rather than taps. For instance, the bookmarks shortcut resembles a piece of duct-tape, so naturally, I went in swiping when a tap was needed.
To try or not?
Axis marks a great change from the company's other endeavours, with both the mobile app and browser extension looking to do something different.
Despite a relative lack of features in both versions of the service, we're almost guaranteed to see timely updates coming down the pipeline in the future.
But as is, the browser extension is a useful tool that I could see myself sticking with. The mobile app might not replace the likes of Opera and Safari, but future updates should keep it in the game.
To try it out, simply visit the Yahoo! Axis website.