Facebook expected to launch its first consumer hardware device called Portal, in an attempt to compete with Amazon Echo Show

It looks like smart displays with support for virtual assistants and video chats are the in-thing. After Amazon Echo Show, we are seeing a lot of Google Assistant supporting smart displays being announced at CES 2018. Now, another software giant wants to get in on this consumer hardware business. And it's Facebook!

Facebook's Managing Director Northern, Martin Ott poses for the photographer with a Gear VR virtual reality headset by Oculus. Reuters

Facebook's Managing Director Northern, Martin Ott poses for the photographer with a Gear VR virtual reality headset by Oculus. Reuters

According to news site Cheddar, Facebook is planning to launch its own video chat device, codenamed Portal, in the second half of 2018. Facebook is expected to make a formal announcement at the F8 Developers conference in May this year, says the report. The device is expected to be priced at $499, but that price could vary closer to launch date.

Facebook has yet to officially confirm this news.

Portal could be Facebook's first foray into consumer hardware and the device is expected to be used when you're at home. According to people familiar with the matter, Facebook wants Portal to not only be a virtual assistant but also be a tool for letting families communicate with each other through video chatting and other related social features. This puts Facebook Portal in direct competition with Amazon's Echo Show and the multiple Google Assistant supporting smart displays that are being announced at CES 2018.

Portal will come with a wide-angle camera up front and will have the ability to recognise faces from their Facebook accounts. Facebook has been investing heavily in machine learning and image recognition. Recently it had announced a feature where-in the image recognition prowess of the platform would even notify you when a photograph featuring you was uploaded, even without you not being tagged in it.

Amazon Echo Show is the Alexa-powered smart display product. Image: Amazon

Amazon Echo Show is the Alexa-powered smart display product. Image: Amazon

Since it will be a display, Facebook also intends to tie up with streaming services such as Spotify and Netflix. More recently Facebook had also signed up deals with Universal Music Groupso it is safe to assume that these partnerships will be utilised on the Portal.

This would be the first product to come out of Facebook's secretive hardware division, Building 8. It looks like Facebook plans to release a string of consumer-facing hardware devices which would compete with those from Amazon, Google and Apple. Facebook had, in the past, tried its hand at hardware partnerships with Facebook Home phones, which had flopped.

According to Cheddar, Facebook hopes to sell Portal through pop-up stores and via online platforms.

At CES 2018, Facebook VR president Hugo Barra showed up on stage at a Qualcomm press conference to announced a hardware partnership with Xiaomi and Qualcomm.

Barra, who comes from Xiaomi, revealed that the Oculus Go will be manufactured by Xiaomi. The Oculus Go will also use chipsets from Qualcomm. This would be the Qualcomm Snapdragon 821, which is also found in smartphone flagships that are now a year old. It does, however, serve the purpose of delivering mobile VR experience.

Another reveal was that Xiaomi was also working on a China-specific variant of the Oculus Go. The new variant will be called the Mi VR Standalone.


Updated Date: Jan 10, 2018 10:17 AM