It’s been a long time since Yahoo has done anything
notable. Wednesday afternoon, with a product video that looked like it was produced for a cheap Kickstarter, Yahoo unveiled Axis. Axis is a multi platform strategy to put Yahoo (that is, Bing’s search, Yahoo’s name) front and center. It’s not necessarily brilliant, but it might just be the first example of a major company trying to move toward what’s next for search rather than making the obvious next step.
Axis lives in two places, mobile and desktop, and it automatically syncs between the two. Right now it’s only an extension on the desktop. It’s a smart move, as users can use Axis without having to switch browsers, which removes a lot of friction from adopting the service. Ease of use is Axis’s broader goal. Axis is essentially a glorified search box, but it subverts the traditional search results page by displaying large images of the results in a side to side scrolling format. This is a big move - Yahoo isn’t making any money here. Instead, they’re taking a risk to gain users, which in the long run is the right move. More importantly, removing the search results page is likely the first step in the future of search. It can’t answer your questions just yet, but it makes search, particularly on mobile much smoother.
There are issues however. The idea as a whole isn’t much more than a browser extension that we might have seen five or more years ago. The only notable aspect is that it’s a major player pushing it, which also means it’ll have a direct access to their technology which can help to build a stronger product. The iOS app is solid, and seems to run as well as Safari (which is all we can ask for, given that iOS browsers can only be Safari with a skin on it). It fact, it seems more fluid in a lot of ways than Safari. The search function is smart, tab switching and bookmark access is much quicker, and the ability to sync tabs between desktop and mobile makes one wonder why Safari can’t do this yet. The only gripe might be that Axis leaves a small black bar at the top of the webpage that the user can drag down to reveal the search interface. It’s nice not having to scroll all the way up like on Safari, but on mobile, wasting screen space like that is far more noticeable. On the desktop, right now Axis is essentially just a toolbar. It’s unfortunate it can’t plug in to the actual address bar. Instead, Axis lives in a thin black bar on the bottom of the screen, which isn’t quite going to sell anyone on using it. It’s too bad - tighter integration could make it a far more compelling product.
Either way, it’s good to see Yahoo finally do something. Someone is going to revolutionize search once again, and no one has done too much interesting in the space as of late. Bing implemented a pretty smart bar on the right side of it’s search results that displays relevant information trying to remove steps for the user. Google quickly implemented nearly the same thing.
Yesterday, Facebook finally released their Camera app, which was a long time coming. It’s a little later than it perhaps should have come, but it’s clear that this isn’t a competitor to Instagram (particularly given that Facebook now owns Instagram), though it will hopefully invoke some friendly rivalry. Facebook has been making a number of tweaks lately. The main mobile app saw a redesigned feed that’s much nicer to read, and images are displayed larger than before so that it’s no longer necessary to open them to actually get a sense of what they are (it also displays the full photo, unlike Timeline on the desktop site, which crops to a square around any face it detects, which is an odd choice given the difference in screen real estate). It’s not necessarily a beautiful app just yet, but it’s looking much more polished.
The Camera app is impressive, even if it doesn’t make as much sense within Facebook’s ecosystem. We see all of our friends’ photos within the main app, making Camera a repetitive experience. It is however a much more useful way to upload photos to Facebook, and it does include a number of filters and the ability to tag friends (which will hopefully get to Instagram eventuality). More important is the fact that this is an elegantly made app. There are some great new UI elements. There are subtle overlays on the bottom of the photos for comments and likes. Your camera roll is located at the top, and by dragging the feed down, it gives quick access to uploading your photos in batch. Comments pop up quickly in a speech bubble, and can be closed by dragging it down. It also runs extremely smooth and quick. Everything pops up immediately, and photos display a low quality place holder as you scroll down and quickly pop into their full quality as you approach them. Additional photos in an album peak in from the side, and it’s only a matter of swiping over to see them. It’s a huge improvement from the main mobile app, and hopefully we’ll see these stylings make their way over.
It’s exciting seeing these companies trying to capture market share by putting out solid products. For Yahoo, it’s a response to the last decade. For Facebook, it’s a matter of recognizing the mobile engagement is the future, which they certainly realize. Moreover, their recent design improvements are likely a response to Google’s updated Google+ app, which ought to have embarrassed Facebook just a bit. Camera isn’t going to be as disruptive as Messenger, but these single serve apps are surprisingly important to their strategy, and Camera is well made enough that it ought to increase interaction. As for Axis, perhaps we’ll be seeing a full browser soon. Regardless, it’s nice to see something slightly different from a major player (if Yahoo can still be considered that). Google copies Bing, Bing copies Google. Answer engines like Wolfram Alpha are what will eventually beat them all.