Facebook has been trying to expand its consumer hardware segment beyond the Oculus. Towards this, it has launched a smart speaker called Portal. The two versions from Facebook would retail for a max of $400. The underlying voice architecture will be powered by Amazon Alexa and will be available in two different sizes. The product has been under development for quite some time at Facebook’s hallowed Building 8, the top-secret R&D centre that worked on drones, and brain- scanning technology among other innovations. It was supposed to be launched by June 2018 at the annual developer conference – the F8 Conference. However, the privacy backlash fueled by the Cambridge Analytical scandal prompted the social media giant to postpone the launch to October.
What does the product do?
As per unconfirmed reports, users will be able to speak to a range of ‘Facebook features’ that are currently growing in scope. Tech geeks are speculating its appearance to look like the Amazon Echo Show (a video screen above a speaker, with a camera perched on top) the camera will be helpful for facial recognition and video chatting needs. The large screen, speakers, and microphones will utilise Facebook’s face recognition tools which are capable of adding more context and relevance to its existing database of billion+ profiles. A user would recall this feature in action when they post a new pic, and FB recommends which friend’s face is in the photo in order to facilitate its tagging. The device’s integration with Amazon Alexa means that users can ask the device for the latest news, weather, sports, and play music and videos.
The importance of privacy
Privacy has been a hot point of concern at Facebook this year. Hence it is no surprise that the social media platform is taking steps to protect user privacy with this launch. The portal is believed to have a ‘privacy shutter’. This tool will cover the portal’s wide-angle video camera. With the help of AI algorithms, the portal will identify the people in the frame and follow them as they walk around a room. This option has been integrated into the device and is described as a ‘brand tax’ by FB employees. The reason for this is that it was developed late into product development stage in response to the worldwide backlash it received that not enough was being done to maintain the trust of its users.
The smaller screen variant will cost almost $300 while the bigger screen variant will retail for $400. Presumably, a lot of thought has gone into the product’s development. While the stated objective for ‘Portal’ remains to enable voice chat and video playback along with listening music, there is a bigger story to it. The device’s launch will also seek to fulfil another objective – i.e. elevating the falling customer trust on the social media giant. To what extent the device can assuage the depreciation of trust in the minds of users, only time will tell.