Technology

Yahoo bids to get its 'cool' back and remain relevant

yahoo product runway sign
Yahoo plans to introduce new products starting in the autumn

Yahoo is bidding to "get its cool back" with a product strategy to make the web more personal for its 600 million users.

Long criticised for having lost its way, Yahoo is fighting to remain relevant as users migrate to other sites such as social network Facebook.

The internet pioneer said it also wanted to be known as a technology company and not a media company.

One study showed it lost its number two search engine spot in the US to Bing.

Page views have slipped and a number of product launches have failed to excite and win over a sceptical press.

Blake Irving hopes to change all that.

After 100 days in the job as chief products officer he unveiled a three-year vision for the company at an event at its California headquarters.

"You are going to see things that happen fast, that are innovative and that make customers and advertisers delighted," said Mr Irving.

"Yahoo in three years is a global series of web experiences across a variety of different devices that gives people what they want; the content, the folks that they care about," he said. "There is a bunch of bringing cool back to Yahoo saying a lot of the things that you want to do on the web are here."

Mobile push

During the event, Yahoo previewed new products that the company will be introducing over the next few months including:

  • a version of Yahoo mail that is faster, has an improved user interface, blocks spam and integrates with Facebook and Twitter
  • a fresh layout in Yahoo Search that presents more content around entertainment and news searches
  • an Yahoo iPad and tablet app due for release in 2010/2011
  • revamped ad formats
  • connected TV partnerships with video-on-demand content sources, social networks, games and shopping

Concentrating on connected devices from the TV to the smartphone and tablet computers is a big part of shoring up the company's future and driving growth.

"I think in the next 15 years more than half of users will be accessing services through mobile devices," Mr Irving told BBC News.

"I see it with my own kids who are just as comfortable typing on glass as they are on a keyboard," he said. "It's going to be a different world and a huge percentage of what Yahoo will do will not be on PCs."

Yahoo's chief technology officer Raymie Stata said he believed this strategy was very important to help restore Yahoo's cool factor.

"You have to be committed to building leading edge experiences and that is what we at Yahoo are doing and I think all these mobile connected devices represents a tremendous opportunity for us to recommit ourselves and to engage and delight users."

"Tech shine"

For some analysts and industry watchers, Yahoo's latest vision and product runway ignited little enthusiasm.

yahoo is tech sign
Yahoo is trying to redefine its approach as a company

While not writing the company off, many feel Yahoo was failing to keep pace with other technological innovations coming out of Silicon Valley.

The technology site Wired.com pointed out that in the last week Google introduced instant search, Microsoft released a new version of its browser and Twitter revamped its website to be a one-stop shop.

Yahoo in comparison talked about "cool things coming up soon".

"It definitely seems to have lost some of its tech shine and announcing products to come is more than a little disappointing in light of what other companies are doing," Wired's Ryan Singel told the BBC.

"They seem desperate to remind the tech world that they have a ton of users, real science and real engineers," he said. "They can't be written off just because they haven't figured out what they are supposed to be yet."

At the event, Mr Irving tried to address the relevance issue.

"Yahoo is a technology company and an innovative technology company," he said. "It is in the digital media business and operates the largest digital media content on the planet.

"People should use this presentation as a pivot to say this is a technology capable company that has at its core technology as a key lever," said Mr Irving.

Analyst Greg Sterling of Opus Research said it did not matter how Yahoo described itself if it could not deliver products that impress users.

"They are really a company whose strongest days are behind them," he said. "Clearly they have a lot of users globally but they don't have any products that are really exciting.

"They have strong products and strong content but they don't have any market leading products that have gotten people excited," said Mr Sterling.

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