Cheddar: Facebook readies debut of Portal smart home device
- Facebook next week will reportedly debut a smart home device called Portal that's similar in design and function to Amazon's Echo Show, unnamed sources told Cheddar. The device will have social networking features and be available in two screen sizes ranging in price from about $300 to $400.
- Portal will feature AI-powered video chat technology and an integration with Amazon's Alexa voice assistant that allows users to play music, watch videos, get news briefs and more. Facebook employees have been testing the device for months and have shown it to major retailers, per Cheddar.
- Facebook had planned to announce Portal at its annual F8 developer conference in May, but executives held off on the announcement in the wake of a succession of data privacy scandals.
Facebook's introduction of a camera-enabled smart home device comes as the company prepares for the holiday season and recovers from various scandals earlier this year. It remains to be seen if customers will trust Facebook to operate a camera in their homes, especially in light of the Cambridge Analytica mishap that triggered worries about how the social giant shares personal information about its users with third parties. The device does include a camera cover to ease privacy concerns, and Facebook has claimed that it doesn't scan photos sent through its Messenger platform to use for advertising. Instead, the photo scanning is intended to stop abusive behavior such as sending child pornography across its system, per Bloomberg.
Portal also marks Facebook's entry into the home devices market. While the company has experience in making hardware with its $2 billion acquisition of Oculus, the maker of virtual reality (VR) headsets, its 2013 HTC smartphone was deemed a flop. However — unlike the smartphone market that's matured and become much more crowded among tech giants — the market for smart home devices is growing rapidly, giving Facebook an opportunity to gain a foothold in a nascent technology space.
Studies suggest there's room for Facebook in the smart home space. Ownership of smart speakers like the Amazon Echo or Google Home is forecast to rise to 48% of U.S. consumers after this holiday season from 32% in August, Adobe Analytics estimates. Amazon's global share of smart speaker shipments fell to 41% in Q2 2018 from 76% a year earlier, while Google boosted its share to 28% from 16% during the same periods, according to researcher Strategy Analytics, highlighting that no one device maker has yet dominated the space. The firm estimated that device makers shipped nearly 12 million smart speakers in Q2 2018, about 8 million more than a year ago.
Samsung last month entered the smart speaker market with its Galaxy Home device that uses the Bixby digital assistant to respond to verbal commands. Amazon last week integrated an improved Alexa voice assistant throughout homes and in cars with a new line of Echo hardware. By giving Portal Alexa capabilities, Facebook can build on Amazon's voice assistant — one that many consumers are already familiar with — without having to invest time and financial resources to develop its own.