Tech Check Talk Back; Not Back Talk!

After an amazingly busy week of Apple Inc., Yahoo, Microsoft, Google, eBay and the ever-growing valuation bonanza shaping up here in the Silicon Valley, you'd expect a flood of email, and ummm, I'm still dripping! So, in keeping with my earlier promise of not just printing, but answering, the missives, here we go!


After the party shenanigans between eBay (hosting its eBay Live! event in Boston last week), and Google's bizarre decision to crash the festivities with an event of its own (also in Bean-town), and then ultimately canceling those plans after eBay pulled its US advertising contract from Google in protest, "tama53" writes in: "It's disgusting that eBay is using the power of its eBay selling community as pawns in this corporate game of Pong. I'm a store seller, they've been screwing me for 7 years. They shouldn't get away with what they've done to US small business owners."

That single email sums up so many calls and messages I received from eBay store owners and Power Sellers who can't understand eBay's decision to walk away from the company's single biggest traffic generator. Some estimates on the Street suggest that Google accounts for at least 20% of eBay's sales leads. Flexing muscles, at the expense of your revenue generators, seems a curious strategy. I posed that to an eBay spokesperson at the height of these tensions. He called this an "experiment," to see just how dependent eBay sellers are on their relationship with Google.

Some Power Sellers I heard from say their traffic dropped off a cliff. The spokesperson said it was too soon to determine the impact. But the company is anxious and eager to hear the results of this "experiment." My suggestion: eBay, open your windows. You might be able to hear the shouting.

Hank Vaccaro writes in: "I'm surprised that there is no speculation about iChat AV on iPhone. (That is, video chat on the iPhone using Apple's iChat service. I would use it. Wouldn't you?"

Sure would, Hank, and don't give up hope just yet. iChat for iPhone is kind of available, but as an AIM available web-based app that should work with iPhone. Beyond that, it's curious that the feature doesn't seem like a bigger deal for Apple, especially as the company continues to push the "communications" aspects of the device. Video iChat poses other issues that may go deeper for the company. If there's wireless video transfer, you wonder if third party developers will figure out a way to wirelessly transfer copyrighted videos and audio files from iPhone to iPhone, and come up with the technology that could end-run iTunes and create a brand new kind of bad-Napster. A doomsday scenario like this is unlikely, but I wouldn't be surprised if the next generation features what you're looking for.

Alan Ross says: "I would have been first in line for the new iPhone but after my very bad experiences with cracked iBook screens, I am holding off. AppleCare and their PR group run cover for defects trying to protect the Apple image."

Hey Alan, I can't defend Apple, but I will say the company's decision to upgrade from plastic to optical-quality glass for the iPhone is a big step forward for both quality of images and durability. Every other smart phone is a plastic-based screen. I understand you might be gun-shy, but we won't know true durability until this thing is on the market for a few months.

Randon Eliason brings up some intriguing iPhone issues: "I think you and all the pundits out there are missing the most critical flaw of Apple's iPhone plan: Apple's choice of partners. AT&T's $40 monthly data service is crap. It is twice as expensive as Sprint's, with significantly lower through-put. While the phone calling plans may be comparable, this is a data-centric phone. And while Mr. Jobs has brushed this criticism aside saying that it will easily and efficiently connect up to wi-fi hotspots, the fact of the matter is that Third Party wi-fi is not ubiquitous, and can't be relied on when you need it. The iPhone is a technology race-car, saddled to a pack mule. I am an Apple supporter and would love to turn my Treo and iPod in for one device. But until it has better data capabilities, I am not interested."

Randon, these are criticisms I hear a lot. The fact is, iPhone is a 2.5G phone, and not the higher bandwidth 3G. Bummer. Curious. I'm also hearing that the $40 a month plan for data service from AT&T won't be available for the iPhone; that a new, $50 plan will be the new minimum. By my math, that means iPhone will run about $110 a month. Say it with me: Ouch. And then there's the question of coverage. I hear voice coverage will match your current AT&T, but data service might be spotty so you'll need to check what works best for you.

"santasbrother" tells me he's a "desk jockey. No Blackberry," he uses a cassette player when he works out. "I was thinking about an iPod, but now I'm thinking iPhone. Never use a screwdriver as a hammer, but I'm thinking this combination of 'tools' will suit me fine." Sounds like a plan!

After my head-to-head with MarketWatch columnist John C. Dvorak on "Street Signs" last week, Yevgeni Kovelman wrote: "I'd like to give a ton of praise to Jim Goldman for providing consistently objective commentary on Apple over the past few years." Thanks, Yevgeni. I truly appreciate that.

But before you think I'm only printing the "good," here's the bad and ugly from "VL:" "Jim, please stop insulting our intelligence with your ignorant hype and lies about iPhone. Please educate yourself about the technology available today before making ridiculous claims on national TV."

Sheesh, VL, I don't think I'm insulting anyone. Don't shoot the messenger. I think to date I've been pretty balanced, and rest assured, I'll continue to try.

Elizabeth Schumann sent this note on Google following questions about the company's privacy initiatives: "I see Google as amoral, a close embodiment to Big Brother. It preys on us and has absolutely no standards as to what it advertises. I use Clusty whenever I can. I am NOT against success and profit, but NOT at any cost. Google exemplifies the kind of industry that needs to be reined in and regulated, because it is drunk on its success and has no restraint."

Interesting opinion, especially for a company whose corporate mantra is "Do No Evil." I guess you'd disagree. I think a lot of people share your concern about that fine line between privacy and convenience. Google has said collecting information helps it tailor consumers' web experiences to their particular needs and interests. The broader question is for how long that data is stored, what kind of data it is, how personal it gets, and who gets access to it. Something all web users should be aware of.

Ed in Arizona writes: "Jim Goldman is one of the bright lights of CNBC. Bright, accurate, no nonsense, good questions and doesn't accept BS answers. I always enjoy his commentary." VL? Did you catch that? (kidding.)

That's all the space I've got for today. Please keep writing in. Hearing what you have to say, what I can do better, what you're interested in, what's bothering you, and getting the opportunity to answer is one of my favorite parts of this blog.

iPhone comes out a week from tomorrow. Watch for my coverage tomorrow about the risks and rewards this product poses for Apple. You might be a little surprised by both.

Questions? Comments?