Yahoo Axis: A surprisingly fresh take on mobile browsers

Yahoo(s yhoo) announced the launch of a new mobile browser on Thursday: Yahoo Axis is available in the iTunes App Store for iOS devices and will be supported on other mobile platforms in the future. An Axis plugin for HTML5 browsers on the desktop allows for browsing sessions and searches to be¬†synchronized¬†from smartphone to computer. With Axis, Yahoo is attempting to turn the browser from “destination to companion.”
I was leery when I heard the news about Axis, mainly because Yahoo’s mobile strategy has arguably been second-rate by comparison to Apple(s aapl), Google(s goog), and Microsoft(s msft). Then I took Axis for a spin on my iPhone and I was pleasantly surprised. In my opinion, Yahoo has accomplished its stated goals with Axis, and its peers could learn something from the venerable search company.
First, I’m very impressed with the user interface implemented in Axis. It’s simple and fast to use once you understand it. Essentially, the browser has a number of sliding panes — both horizontally and vertically — that you swipe to get around the web.
You start out with an address bar that’s also a search field and results begin to appear immediately. Swiping left to right shows more results, which are essentially thumbnails of visual information; far richer than just text results. Tap a thumbnail and a bottom panel rises, showing the a web page. Bookmarks are available with a right to left swipe (or a tap) of a small ribbon icon. Tap an icon on the bottom of the browser and thumbnails of open tabs appear for your to navigate through or view.
The entire UI is seamless and very focused on swiping as opposed to tapping. Yahoo clearly spent time figuring out the best way to take advantage of the touchscreens found on today’s smartphones, and the effort shows. Although geared for mobile devices, I really like how Axis allows you to switch views optimized for iPhone, iPad and desktops from within the settings. I never expected to say this, but Google, Microsoft and even Apple could learn from Yahoo’s UI approach here. That’s debatable and open to personal opinion of course, but I really like what Yahoo did here.
How much will Axis matter in the grand scheme of things? Probably not too much because even with the well designed user interface, I don’t expect a significant number of iOS device users to switch browsers. Some might use Axis — or Opera, Dolphin HD or another third-party browser — on occasion, but since all links in iOS open Safari, few will likely bother to open up Axis on a regular basis. That’s a shame because Yahoo has delivered a solid browser for mobile devices in Axis.