Yahoo! has made big news today with the launch of the new Axis browser. Axis is available today as an iOS app, though an Android version is said to be in the works. In an interesting twist, Yahoo! has decided to mostly forego the desktop browser market. Axis’s only desktop presence is an add-on for Google Chrome.
By all accounts, Axis is an excellent browser – something most people seem to be saying with an air of surprise. The reason for that is simple: third party browsers on the iOS platform have, until now, been anywhere from bad to mediocre. While there have been a few decent entries, the iOS browser market overall is decidedly lackluster. Safari isn’t necessarily a great browser, but it’s a far sight better than most of the options in the App Store. Now, though, Axis has changed all that by publishing a slick new browser that’s easy to use, nice to look at, and with a much more intuitive search function than Safari. That creates a very interesting situation for iOS users, one that may have significant implications for the future of the iOS platform.
You see, apart from an overall lack of quality, there’s another thing that’s kept third party browsers from mounting a serious challenge to Mobile Safari. Unlike Android – and Windows, and OS X, for that matter – iOS does not allow the user to change the default browser. Even if you find a browser in the App Store that you love (like Axis, or the rumored Google Chrome for iOS), you can’t make it your default browser. Bookmarks you put on your home page still have to come from Safari. Links you get in an email or find in an app still open in Safari.
The launch of Axis, though, may mean a change to all of that. If Axis grows in popularity – and even if it doesn’t – Apple may wind up having to allow other browsers to play in its sandbox. Otherwise it could wind up facing the same sort of antitrust troubles Microsoft faced in the 1990s when trying to keep people using Internet Explorer instead of some of the other alternatives available at the time.
There are indications, though, that Apple may be okay with this. Ethan Batraski, head of product for Yahoo’s Search Innovation Group, told CNet that Yahoo! had Apple’s “blessing.” What’s more, Apple’s people told Batraski something that’s pretty obvious when you think about it: Apple isn’t too focused on improving mobile Safari. In the days of the first iPhone, Safari was absolutely crucial to the iPhone – there were, after all, no third party apps. If you wanted to do much of anything on the original iPhone other than the basic stuff you could do with Apple’s apps, you needed Safari. Now, though, all that has changed. These days, you can do almost anything you could possibly want or need to do with your iOS device and never touch Safari. And Apple knows this. The last few versions of iOS have included only the most basic improvements to Safari on the iPhone (the iPad version got more goodies with iOS 5, but still not a vast improvement).
With Axis now out there, and Google Chrome possibly on the horizon, it may well be that Apple is ready to start making iOS more open to other browsers. Could we see such change in iOS 6? It’s certainly possible. On the other hand, it’s possible that Apple will stick to its guns and keep iOS locked on Safari, possibly drawing the ire of the government. One hopes, however, that they learned from Microsoft’s mistakes and will be a little more willing to see reason.
A request for comment sent to Apple has not yet been returned.