eBay has a history of releasing tools and widgets that make it easier for buyers to find items and for sellers to make money. Between the Firefox Companion and blog-compatible eBay widgets, the site has gone out of its way to provide a number of tools that make using the online auction site so easy that anyone can sign up, buy items, and sell their old stuff.
This week, eBay unveiled eBay Desktop. eBay Desktop uses Adobe’s AIR platform, offering you complete control over the auctions you’re watching, those you’ve bid on, and the items that you’ve won. You can’t sell items through eBay Desktop yet, but that’s likely coming soon.
In addition to being fully featured, eBay Desktop sports a gorgeous interface and a few surprises not available on the Website.
eBay Desktop is absolutely gorgeous. It may be in beta, but it’s extremely polished. The app is well built and easy to use. Navigating around feels like you’re using a desktop app and windows and panes transition smoothly between what you’re looking at and what you just clicked on. Shopping using eBay Desktop is a completely different experience than using the Website. When you download eBay Desktop, you’ll be prompted to install Adobe AIR as well. Even if you have an old version of the AIR framework, you’ll need to install the newest release (also a beta) before you can install eBay Desktop. Once it’s installed, simply sign in with your eBay account to get started.
The first thing that I noticed when using eBay Desktop was how simple it was to navigate. The app is designed with some of the common features of a browser window, so you can click back and forward to move between what you’re looking at now and what you saw a moment ago. Additionally, clicking on menu options and panes give you instant feedback, sometimes completely reorganizing the window so you can better see the items for sale, the details of an item that you clicked on, or even bid on something you want. When viewing a list of items, eBay Desktop actually counts down the time in minutes and seconds to when the auction ends, so you can pick up those last second items.
The app also provides you desktop alerts when you’ve been outbid on an item or when you’ve won an auction. The search bar provides popular searches as soon as you begin to type, and saves searches that you’ve made in the past. You can subscribe to seller feeds, get reminders for items that you’ve been watching, or create filters that take you directly to the type of item that you want without having to wade through the junk you don’t.
As beautiful as eBay Desktop is, I’d love to see more, and there are a few kinks to work out. Because the app is in beta, expect to see a bug here or there (which you can report with a button at the bottom of the window). Those I saw all came when I was trying to install the app and upgrade Adobe AIR, which admittedly makes an excellent platform for an application like this.
At the same time, AIR is as much a weakness as it is a strength. Until it is ubiquitous, many people might shrug at downloading an entire framework or plugin just to run this app. I happened to have it installed already because I’m a fan of Pownce, but the installation is a little clunkier than something like Flash. Even so, AIR works well and blends in beautifully with the desktop. If there’s a tool that might convince more people to download and install AIR, this might be it.
As eBay Desktop matures, the developers behind it will likely introduce the ability to sell items from eBay Desktop as well. I understand why they left it out of the first public beta, but I can easily see sellers as the primary audience for a tool like this. As easy as it is to find items using eBay Desktop, it could be just as easy and painless to sell them, upload photos already on your desktop, write descriptions, and select the best item categories if there were a custom interface for it. I hope we’ll see those abilities in future versions. Also, the public beta only works for US eBayers, although global eBay sites will be added soon.
Even so, eBay Desktop is a great utility, especially for a beta. It’s available for Windows (XP and Vista only) and Mac (10.4 only), and it’s free. The number of tools that the desktop app offers outweighs the Website by far, and the ability to interact instantly with item listings and with the auctions you’re watching and bidding on beats waiting for e-mail notifications and clicking refresh hands-down.