This week, Facebook introduced a new connected device for your home (albeit US-only for now), Facebook Portal and Portal+ which focuses on connecting you to others, hands-free, with an appliance-style device. While hardware is new for Facebook, it aligns with the vision to connect the world.
Facebook’s Portal contains a front-facing video camera and microphones for conferencing. Most of the world immediately dismissed the product due to privacy concerns, but I take a different view, I understand we already have devices with Facebook on (via browser or mobile app), so there’s a level of trust already established, adding a dedicated hardware device is no different in my eyes.
I prefer to look at the opportunities on offer here.
Intelligent Design, Invisible Tech: Powered by AI, Portal’s Smart Camera and Smart Sound technology take all of the guesswork out of video calling, letting people enjoy a more convenient, hands-free experience. Whether people are cooking in the kitchen or chasing the kids around the living room, Smart Camera stays with the action and automatically pans and zooms to keep everyone in view. Smart Sound minimizes background noise and enhances the voice of whoever is talking, no matter where they move. It’s like having your own cinematographer and sound crew direct your personal video calls.
Connect with Facebook and Messenger Friends: Users can call Facebook friends and connections on Messenger even if they don’t have Portal. Calls can be made to and from Messenger-enabled smartphones and tablets. Portal supports group calls of up to seven people at the same time.
Voice Control + Alexa: Portal offers hands-free voice control. Users can start a video call simply by saying “Hey Portal” and noting who they’d like to call. Portal also has Amazon Alexa built in, so users have access to a robust voice experience to ask for sports scores, check the weather, control smart home devices, order groceries, and more.
Immersive Experiences: Portal also enables shared activities like listening to music together or watching your favourite shows. Facebook has partnered with Spotify Premium, Pandora, and iHeartRadio, as well as Facebook Watch, Food Network and Newsy — others will come soon.
Hardware: Portal has a 10-inch 1280 x 800 display. While Portal+ has a 15-inch 1920 x 1080 pivoting display. Both devices are available now for pre-order in the US – from Facebook at portal.facebook.com, as well as Amazon and Best Buy – and will begin shipping in November. You can bring Portal home for US$199.00 and Portal+ for US$349
By the time a product is announced to the world, it’s been through months (if not years) of internal planning and plenty of really smart people inside these large companies have thought long and hard about why the product needs to exist in the world.
As the world continues to turn to more and more video, it raises the question of how we go about communicating with each other. While we all have capable devices, that is laptops, tablets, phones ready and willing to play this role in our lives, an appliance for video conferencing is far more convenient, and more approachable by all demographics, specifically kids and the elderly.
Once setup, selecting a contact and video conferencing with them would be a super simply task, meaning it’s something likely to be done daily, not every couple of months. This convenience has the possibility of connecting families and friends more often, which is an amazingly positive thing, given an increasingly geographically dispersed population.
To address the security question, obviously Facebook are conscious of the sensitivity around secure communications, Anyone with a connected device, has considered the potential security implication of the communication not being private and are happy continue to use the service.
In my eyes, video conferencing on these services offers an opportunity to connect. Should you share passwords over it? No, but that’s not through a lack of trust in the service, just generally good practice would dictate that’s a terrible idea.
For me a dedicated computer on the kitchen bench has always been something tech companies have tried to sell us on, but always failed. Some fridge manufacturers hoped their products would be the home for it, but generally nobody wants to stand in front of a fridge for a 20-30 minutes chat. Neither is holding out your arm for 10 minutes while the birthday candles are blown out and the cake is cut.
Having something portable (just needs power) enables plenty of uses around the home, from the home office, to the kitchen bench and even the bedside table. Maybe it’s the grandparents that can’t attend a birthday party, or a sibling in hospital that wants to escape the hospital room. It would also be a great option for those in long term relationships that want to connect more frequently than the odd quick call here or there.
These hardware devices won’t appeal to all, that’s fine, if you don’t like it, don’t buy it, but I love that they exist in the world. Frankly its kind of inexcusable that Skype never delivered a hardware product like this.