Facebook enters smart speaker race with video-calling device

Joanna Estrada
October 12, 2018

"The first thing consumers are going to wonder if 'how much sensitive data is this collecting about me?'" said John Breyault, Vice President of Public Policy of Telecommunications and Fraud at the National Consumers League, a Washington-based consumer advocacy group that has received donations from Facebook and other tech companies.

The device now offered in two sizes 10 Inches and 15.6 Inches Screen and can connect with Facebook Messenger enabling users on messengers on messengers as well. Portal's display is fixed in landscape mode, but Portal+'s screen can pivot between portrait and landscape modes.

The unique selling point of these devices is that they keep you in the frame as you move about the room using auto-zoom and, for the Portal+, rotation.

The company worked with a USA film director in order to make the camera movements feel natural, said Nick Fell, marketing director for the Portal team.

JD.com, which had the biggest share of China's domestic smart speaker market in 2017, also has a smart display called Dingdong Play. "Portal and Portal+ also come with a camera cover, so you can easily block your camera's lens at any time and still receive incoming calls and notifications, plus use voice commands". While hardware is new for Facebook, it aligns with the vision to connect the world.

Facebook has revealed two new video communication devices which it claims simplifies video calling. "When you can't be there, Portal and Portal+ let you feel there", Facebook said in its statement. Unlike a regular phone or video call, there's no ringing, and you never have to "answer" the call - they just appear instantly. Also, calls can be made from and to Messenger-enabled smartphones and tablets.

Not a fully functional computer yet, this is somehow dwarfed by likes of it, say, Echo Show or Google Smart Displays. Users can start a video call simply by saying "Hey Portal" and noting who they'd like to call. In addition, it supported voice control with Amazon Alexa. The Facebook Portal, meanwhile, will likely not help downplay those concerns.

Facebook expects to stand apart on the market because of Portal's touchscreen and the 400 million people who call through its Messenger service each month worldwide. The Portal and Portal+ can play music through Spotify Premium, Pandora and iHeartRadio, or stream video from Facebook Watch, Food Network, and Newsy.

Another cool feature is Story Time, which has five interactive storybooks you can read.

Preorders for the device are ongoing but Facebook is not shipping until November in the United States and other parts of the word (currently unknown).

Preorders for Portal range from $199-$349, with delivery scheduled for November 12. The firm estimated that device makers shipped almost 12 million smart speakers in Q2 2018, about 8 million more than a year ago.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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