TECHNOLOGY

Facebook Announces New Home Video Chat Device “Portal”

Move over, Alexa; there’s [about to be] a new device in town. Well, in your home, at least.

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BY John Hall - 11 Jan 2018

Facebook Announces New Home Video Chat Device "Portal"

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

I recently caught a video from Cheddar, an online news network, that offered the first glimpse of Facebook's proposed home video chat device. Simply named "Portal," the device will be announced officially in May and launched in the second half of 2018.

Ringing up at an estimated $499 a system, Portal boasts a large screen (about the size of a laptop's) to allow for easy communication and includes a camera with advanced facial recognition that connects users to their respective Facebook accounts.

With Portal's introduction, it's clear the social media giant is ready to disrupt the home device market, despite the presence of well-established devices like Amazon's Alexa and Google Home.

Rather than positioning the product as a "smart assistant," Facebook insists that the mission behind Portal is unlike that of other competing tech. True to its mission -- "give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together" -- Facebook created Portal to reintroduce the positive effects of communication back into our lives (and our homes).

According to the Cheddar video, the company intends to offer Portal as "a way to encourage more use of Facebook services for communication with family and friends."

Cheddar correspondent Alex Heath reported that Portal has been in the works for around two years, though a confirmation of release hasn't occurred. If and when it's launched, Portal will be the first of several devices in a suite of products created in Facebook's secretive Building 8 lab. The other gadgets are still very much under wraps, except for a brain-computer interface Facebook announced plans to create last year.

Maybe even more surprising than the gadget itself is Mark Zuckerberg's take on it. The Facebook CEO reportedly doesn't care if the Portal makes a profit. He just wants the device to alter user behavior and "creat[e] a new telephone-like experience for the home," according to Heath.

One potential obstacle to Portal's success is users' aversion to "always being watched" in their homes with such a device, a concern that hasn't gone unnoticed by Facebook or its critics.

"That is something that, yes, I think will be an issue," said Heath. "Facebook has done user testing already on prototypes, and one of the main concerns they've heard is the Big Brother stigma," especially because Facebook collects data and harvests personal information.

"It's definitely an issue, and I think it's one that could be an uphill battle for them," continued Heath. Getting people to put a Facebook-powered camera with pretty impressive facial recognition into their homes might prove to be a tough sell -- especially after the difficulties the company had in 2017 with issues of trust and misuse of its tools.

Still, Facebook is comfortable with entering the market now, Heath reported, because it's seen how Amazon has thrived in the market. Despite the social media platform's major 2013 flop, Facebook Home, it is ready to strike again with what it considers a much stronger, more viable product. After all, Zuckerberg has sunk millions of dollars into the initiative at this point; it has no choice but to live up to its worth.

Keep your eyes on the screen and ears to the ground when spring rolls around this year -- that's when Facebook is poised to announce Portal to the world.