(WIRED) -- Yahoo is looking to one-up Google and its own search partner Bing, offering a new search experience it describes as the "fastest thing you have ever seen."
The new product called Search Direct combines instant search -- showing results as you type -- with instant answers, so that typing in "amzn" instantly shows a full box with stock quotes about Amazon.com. For searches it has no answer to, it shows search links immediately in an easy-to-navigate box above a typical search-results page.
Yahoo, which looked to have abandoned the search game when it outsourced its search backend to Microsoft, says Search Direct -- and its emphasis on user experience -- is the future of search.
"I want you to remember three words: 'answers, not links,'" Shashi Seth, Yahoo's vice president for search told a room of tech reporters in San Francisco as he demo'd the product.
Search Direct is live on search.yahoo.com and other U.S. Yahoo search properties, but not the homepage yet. The same experience will soon come to all search boxes on Yahoo, Seth said, and it will find its way to non-Yahoo properties as well.
The product has "answers" for 15 categories of entities, including movies, professional athletes, music, celebrities, weather info, news, shopping, local and stocks.
The new search builds on Yahoo's attempt to stay relevant in the lucrative search market by focusing on user experience, now that it has farmed out the expensive infrastructure to Microsoft, in exchange for ad-revenue sharing.
"People still come to Yahoo and search on Yahoo," said Yahoo chief product officer Blake Irving.
Yahoo compared the new experience favorably to Google's own Instant Search, saying that Google's feature merely shows search-result pages faster, while this brings people answers incredibly quickly.
Search Direct doesn't require a fast net connection, the company said, and the system is built using infrastructure that Yahoo owns. That could put the feature in conflict with its search partner Bing.
For instance, Yahoo says it can come up with new ad formats that fit in the Search Direct box, but it hasn't yet figured out how or if it would share that revenue with Microsoft, as it currently does with search ads.
Yahoo emphasized that it had built instant search first (though it never released it) and that it owns patents on both that technology and the new technology.
Neither Irving or Seth would say what Yahoo would do with those patents.
Irving tried to be diplomatic.
"Licensing is something we have done in the past and continue to do in the future," Irving said.
Yahoo expects to license the service to others around the web and seems confident it's built the future of search -- even as the tech world has written the firm off as a third-place player destined to keep falling behind.
It's not clear if Yahoo's figured out search's future, but Direct Search is incredibly fast and could prove to be so useful that we'll all soon forget when we had to type a full word and hit Enter to figure something out.
And combined with Yahoo's promising new tablet-publishing platform Livestand, we may just be seeing a revitalized Yahoo that is actually a tech company once again, despite its recent financial woes and layoffs.
Subscribe to WIRED magazine for less than $1 an issue and get a FREE GIFT! Click here!
Copyright 2011 Wired.com.