Facebook’s infiltration of the home just received reinforcements, as the company unveiled its latest updates to its Portal smart display.
The social media giant’s answer to Amazon’s Echo Show and the Google Home Hub, the new family of Portal devices follows a familiar path, with a $179 version of the 10-inch flagship smart display and a mini version with an 8-inch display pricing at $129. Of course, if consumers just can’t get enough Portal, they can hook up the new Portal TV to the biggest screen in their homes for $149.
The gizmos share the same essential functions — video calling that can automatically focus or track users in the frame, playing music wirelessly and displaying digital photos.
This initiative has plenty of Facebook watchers scratching their heads, wondering how a company so often scrutinized for privacy issues could dare put a camera-equipped gadget in consumers’ homes. And now, after a year since the product’s introduction, a full-blown collection of devices stands ready to place Facebook cameras in every room of the home.
A source with knowledge of internal sentiments at Facebook told WWD that the company was “proud” of its technology — in particular, the tracking capability — and suggested that, since there would be no ideal time to release the units, the decision-makers made the bold move of releasing them.
The tech doesn’t seem quite fully baked, however. Facebook is reportedly working on its own voice assistant, but in the meantime, it relies on Amazon’s Alexa to chat up users. The company also revealed that human contractors will listen to some of the audio for transcription, but will give users the ability to opt out.
At first blush, where the products do succeed is in illustrating the company’s priority on claiming more credit for the successes and wins of its owned platforms. In addition to piping in videos from Facebook Watch, the appliances rely on Messenger and WhatsApp for video calling.
It’s also worth mentioning that Facebook runs its own marketplace. While it may not operate at Amazonian proportions, it’s clear that shopping is a growing priority, especially in light of the company’s slipping advertising revenue growth. In 2016, when Facebook Marketplace launched, fourth-quarter ad revenue had grown a whopping 53 percent year-over-year. This summer, Facebook reported growth clocking in at approximately half of that.
Meanwhile, “social shopping” may be one of the few areas Amazon hasn’t dominated. This puts a rather intense spotlight on initiatives like Facebook Marketplace, Instagram Shopping and even the company’s controversial Libra cryptocurrency efforts — like dots waiting to be connected to what Facebook clearly hopes will become the foundational social portal of everyone’s homes.