This week Yahoo added a new tab to their search bar: Apps. Alongside the ability to search for Android and iPhone apps from the home page the company also added an apps portal for browsing by category and discovery.
Of all the things Yahoo has done lately to maintain relevance, this is by far the best.
Now there’s finally a way to search for apps and look through categories of iOS apps on the web. Yes, there are app pages on itunes.apple.com, but the search functionality there is limited. And forget browsing through categories. To do that you need iTunes.
However, over on the Android side there is a web component to the Android Market that is browsable and searchable. Does Yahoo bring anything new to the table for Android users?
It’s possible. For all that Google is the king of search, the Market’s search engine often sucks. Even when you search for an app by name it sometimes gives you mysterious results of little relevance.
Can Yahoo do better? I decided to give the search engine a try to find out.
First, I compared a few search results. I searched for “RSS Reader” and “To do list” and found that Yahoo and the Market gave me similar results with pretty key differences.
For RSS readers both place gReader on top, but Yahoo gives NewsRob the second slot instead of Google Reader. Google Reader doesn’t even show up on the first page of results on Yahoo; neither does Pulse.
There’s a similar shuffle in the results for To Do List. A few apps end up on the first page of results in each, but not in the same order, with different apps getting priority otherwise.
Both searches turned up what I consider to be the best apps in these categories, at least.
A nice addition on the Yahoo search page that the Android Market doesn’t offer is the ability to filter results by category. This will prove useful for app searches that are less targeted and specific. I also like that you can perform a search of either Android or iPhone apps, then click the OS name to automatically do the same search again on the other.
Individual app pages pull in information from the Market and App Store, including user reviews. Yahoo users can review apps — those ratings will exist in a separate space from Market reviews. I wonder how this will affect the overall rating?
You get fewer screenshots on Yahoo’s app pages and not as much overall information. Still, there’s enough to give most users the details they want. To install apps you have to go to the Market or iTunes, anyway, where you can access more info.
Below the description and screenshots there is a Variations section, if applicable.
This shows other versions of an app, such as paid or pro, and sometimes titles Yahoo has decided are similar. This appears to be based on apps sharing a developer or having a similar name. Words With Friends lists other X With Friends titles in this area. It doesn’t always work. The page for NewsRob has no Variations section even though NewsRob Pro exists.
Missing here is the ability to browse apps by developer. Though Yahoo lists this bit of information the names aren’t linked as they are on the Market and in the App Store.
Yahoo has decided that looking for Android and iPhone apps are separate functions, but I wish the Variations section also included versions of the app on the opposite OS. I often hear of a great iPhone app, go looking for it, then wonder if there’s a corresponding Android version.
Though browsing by developer isn’t available, Yahoo does offer suggestions for similar apps in the “More Apps You’ll Heart” sidebar on the left. Oddly, the information here isn’t always accurate. In the screenshot above (click to make it larger) you’ll see NewsRob Pro listed as Free like all the other apps. But if you click the link you’ll see it costs $5.99. That’s a problem for discovery and browsing.
Speaking of, I next compared app discovery on Yahoo and Android by poking around the Games category.
On both sites it’s easy to browse apps by category. On Yahoo clicking Games brings you to a pretty busy page. On top is a Featured area that flips between 10 apps far too quickly. One hardly has time to read the title before the animation moves on to the next.
Underneath you get the top Free, Paid, and Highest Rated apps. This offers a nice overview for viewers and makes it easy to begin narrowing your search.
The Games page on the Android Market shows a grid of 24 apps — Top paid by default, Top Free apps on a secondary tab. I suppose Google is trying to help devs out by giving the paid apps priority. This is not quite as helpful as Yahoo.
The Market has a nice feature Yahoo lacks in that you can browse apps by sub-type. In games that means looking at only Racing or Brain & Puzzle or Arcade.
In comparison to the Android Market, Yahoo’s app search has some advantages but enough drawbacks that it’s not clearly the better choice. It depends on how you’re searching and what your needs are. But for those who use Yahoo as a homepage it means one less tab to open or website to visit to find the app you need.
And, as I said, I like finally having a web-based search and browse portal for iPhone apps.
I plan to keep testing Yahoo as I do more app searches to see how it compares with the Market over time and report back.