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Yahoo Axis impresses on iPad, stumbles on desktop and iPhone (hands-on)

Yahoo Axis impresses on iPad, stumbles on desktop and iPhone (hands-on)


We take a closer look at Yahoo's new browser plugin and iOS app, Axis.

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Yahoo has had a rough couple of months. In April, it laid off 2,000 employees and last week its chief executive resigned, but with the launch of its new browser platform, Axis, things may be looking up for the search giant. If you missed the news, Axis is a new search-focused iOS app and PC browser plugin that offers live search results with thumbnail web page previews and ubiquitous user data.

At the core of Axis is the iOS app, which is available as a universal download for iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. The app provides the same array of features offered by Safari—tabbed browsing, bookmarking, video playback, integrated Twitter support, etc.—but with a completely new UI layer that puts as much consideration into the search experience as it does web page viewing. Instead of a long list of links and summaries, Axis presents results as thumbnail previews that are populated as you type. Despite being so image heavy, search is surprisingly fast. Page previews load almost instantaneously as you type, though performance can vary depending on whether you're on Wi-Fi or a cellular network. The search function is great for leisurely browsing, but those on the hunt for a specific link will likely prefer a standard search engine view.

There are also variations between using Axis on iPhone and using it on iPad, most notably in terms of performance. On the iPhone 4S, Axis can be slow and unresponsive, whereas on the new iPad, there is no delay at all. The iPad also offers some unique features, such as multitasking support. For example, you can pull down the search bar and find new web pages as a previously loaded YouTube video continues to play in the panel below. Between the performance and feature benefits, the value offering of Axis on iPad far outweighs the Phone, though it could improve with future updates.

For desktop and laptop users, Axis is little more than a glorified toolbar. It can be installed as an extension to any number of browsers, including Safari, Chrome, Firefox, and Internet Explorer 9 for both Mac and PC. It appears as a search bar on the bottom of your browser that is only visible when moused over. When a search is entered, results are presented in the same fashion as the iOS app, but without the aid of a touchscreen, the experience is slow and unintuitive. More importantly, the add-on weighs down on browser performance, especially with multiple tabs open. The one significant benefit of using the desktop plugin would be to seamlessly share search history, bookmarks, and other user data with Axis on your iPad or iPhone, but in face of the drawbacks, the juice may not be worth the squeeze.

But, it's also important to keep in mind that Axis is still in its infancy, and as first impressions go, it's off to a good start.

Update: Software developer Nik Cubrilovic claims to have identified a potential security flaw within the Chrome extension for Yahoo Axis that makes Yahoo's private certificate public, allowing malicious attackers to create a forged Chrome extension that would appear like it's from Yahoo.