Facebook is reportedly working on a home video chat device that comes with a large screen, similar to the Amazon Echo Show. According to a report by financial news broadcaster, Cheddar, the device will be branded as Portal and will be the first piece of consumer hardware developed by Facebook’s secretive Building 8 lab, which is an internal skunkworks division similar to Google’s X.
According to the report Portal is set to be unveiled in early May at Facebook’s F8 developer conference. The Verge had quoted Digitimes back in July 2017 reporting that Facebook was working on a smart speaker with a touch panel, Portal seems to be an evolution of that device.
According to Cheddar’s Alex Heath, Facebook will not be pitching the Portal as a competitor to smart home assistants like Amazon’s Echo and Google Home but rather as a communication’s device to stay in touch with friends and family when they are away.
The report also states that Portal’s camera boasts a wide-angle lens that comes with facial recognition (and therefore log them into their personal Facebook accounts), and can be controlled via voice commands.
Like the Echo Show, however, Facebook is planning to entice third parties to come on board as well. The report mentions that the company plans to enable streaming services like Netflix and Spotify, and has recently signed licensing deals with major record labels in the US.
According to the Cheddar report, the Portal may be priced at an insanely steep $499 more than twice the price of the Amazon Echo Show ($230) and similar offerings powered by Google. The report says that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has told employees that profit matters less than getting the Portal into as many homes as possible is the primary goal. With a $499 price tag, we would say good luck Zuckerberg.
Heath, however, mentions that the price has not been finalized and could be reduced if the company feels that will get more users to buy the product. The idea behind the supposed $499 price tag is to pitch the device as a living room replacement for the Apple iPad.
The obvious concern: Privacy
Despite boasting of a massive user base Facebook has been facing a problem of trust. 2017 was a difficult year for the company as it had to grapple with the fallout of the US elections where many believe it’s inability to deal with fake news led to an electoral upheaval. There was also the issue of privacy, the platform now has the ability to detect your face even in photos you have not been tagged in, the Portal could be used to make this feature even more robust possibly without the express consent of its users.
Reporting on rumors of a similar device from Facebook a Verge report in 2017 had said, “Even though people enjoy visiting Facebook, they still have a big problem with the site: they don’t trust it. It’s seen as too big, too suspicious, too demanding. A recent HuffPost / YouGov poll found that most American adults don’t think they can rely on the company to protect their information. Of the survey’s respondents, 28% said they don’t trust Facebook ‘at all’ with their personal data, and 34% said they have ‘not very much’ trust in the company. Another 32% said they only ‘somewhat’ trusted Facebook.”