SAN FRANCISCO -- Google CEO Eric Schmidt said Facebook's Messages e-mail product was good for competition but refused the bait cast at him in a question-and-answer session with media at the Web 2.0 Summit here.
Schmidt, who in an earlier keynote showed off near field communications on an Android 2.3 smartphone believed to be the Nexus S, was asked several different ways what he thought about Messages, its impact on Gmail and the company's growing rivalry with the social network power.
"It's basically good to have more competition in the space," Schmidt said guardedly. "They appear to be taking a different approach, which is good. Competition is positive" because it raises the bar for other products.
He refused to answer a question about how Facebook Messages would impact Google's popular Gmail Webmail client, which he said Google is happy with because of its speed and ability to search messages. "Gmail is doing very well."
"As a group, you all are focused on the competition as opposed to the fact that the market is getting larger," said Schmidt, who was visibly exasperated by all of the questions pitting Facebook versus Google.
"There's no question that more entrants into communications technologies, mobile technologies and so forth bring more people with them. How many people are in the world versus how many people are there online? We are all served by having everybody get online."
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg introduced Facebook Messages Nov. 15 only hours before Schmidt came to the Palace Hotel to chat with the crowd about NFC and several other topics.
Messages enables SMS texting, e-mail, chat and regular Facebook messages. Upon receiving an invitation by Facebook messages, current Facebook users can register for a free @FB.com address on Messages and start using the service.
Unlike Gmail, Yahoo Mail and Microsoft Live Hotmail, Messages offers no subject lines, no carbon copies and no blind carbon copies.
When someone sends a message to the FB.com inbox, it will be able to be picked up by any device a user designates.
The product has the potential to be huge, provided the majority of Facebook's massive 500-million-plus user base opts to use it.
This could ostensibly pinch Gmail, estimated to have almost 200 million users, and the other long-time Webmail apps from Yahoo and Microsoft, which also have hundreds of millions of users.
Schmidt was hounded by media about Facebook for a number of reasons. Facebook is Google's biggest advertising threat, having racked up 23 percent of display ads in the third quarter.
Facebook also refuses to let users export their contacts, keeping the walled garden intact versus Google, which wants to index all of the valuable content it can find online and sell ads against it.