Facebook plans to give Amazon a run for its money.
For the past few months, reports have claimed that Facebook is developing a touchscreen-enabled smart device, possibly called Portal. It's meant to compete with Amazon Echo Show. Facebook reportedly plans to market it as a way for you and your Facebook friends to stay connected via video chatting. But, in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, it's pushed pause on that effort.
Currently, we have no idea what the device looks like or how it will really work and function, but alongside this video chat device are additional rumours that Facebook is developing a separate smart speaker. Confusing, right? Well here's everything we know so far about both.
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Facebook's smart speakers: What's the story so far?
Portal: A touchscreen video chat device with facial recognition
According to a report from Cheddar's Alex Heath, Facebook has developed a video chat device. It's described as an indoor device that can be controlled through voice commands. It'll supposedly have a wide-angle lens that is facial-recognition enabled, enabling it to recognise individual faces and then connect them with their Facebook accounts. Facebook already uses facial recognition to detect users' faces in photos.
Portal, which is internally also referred to by the codename Aloha, comes from Facebook's Building 8 consumer hardware lab. It's supposed to act like a sort of video phone, and it will even allow access to streaming services like Spotify and Netflix. Meanwhile, Bloomberg has also claimed Facebook is developing a video chat device with a laptop-sized, 15.6-inch touchscreen.
Separate smart speaker with Facebook M assistant
Bloomberg further claimed Facebook is working on on a separate smart speaker. So far, there's been few details about this device. However, although Facebook recently announced it will shut down its M assistant, CNBC said both of Facebook's upcoming smart speakers will use Facebook M. Presumably, the assistant will function differently than its original text-based iteration.
Facebook's smart speakers: What do they look like?
A patent application for an "Electronic Device" from 2016 could reveal what Facebook's touchscreen video chat device will look like. It shows the device from all angles, with the first showing it sitting horizontally with what looks like speaker holes on top. Facebook's speaker has long been expected to be a rival to the Amazon Echo Show, offering a way for Facebook users to video chat with one another.
Of course, that would mean the company's speaker sporting a screen, which isn't obvious from this application. Figure 7 shows what could be the speaker standing vertically, with a screen and some buttons sitting beneath, however this drawing is labelled as 'bottom side', so seems unlikely for now. Bear in mind this patent application was filed in 2016, so there is a good chance the design could have changed since.
Now, we must mention, we've seen no leaks or patents for a Facebook smart speaker without a touchscreen. So, one has to wonder if Facebook is indeed developing two separate devices or whether it just tested both and plans to launch only one.
Facebook's smart speakers: What will they cost?
One of Facebook's smart devices, likely the video chat device with the laptop-touched touchscreen, will cost around $499, but Facebook could lower that price. Mind you, the Echo Show costs $230. Cheddar said CEO Mark Zuckerberg isn't focused on whether the device generates profit. He just wants it to "change user behavior and encourage phone-like usage."
Lastly, Facebook is might sell its devices through pop-up stores and online.
Facebook's smart speakers: When will they launch?
Facebook has decided to delay the announcement of its upcoming "hardware products" and "connected speakers with digital-assistant and video-chat capabilities," according to a Bloomberg report. It said several devices were expected to be unveiled at Facebook's F8 conference in May, but as Bloomberg noted, “now may be the wrong time." A recent Reuters poll found that trust in Facebook is waning.
Facebook might launch its rumored smart speakers internationally before bringing them to the US, according to a report from CNBC.