Facebook announces first hardware device

Facebook announces first hardware device

The Portal and Portal Plus marks a new foray into the hardware business in for Facebook.

The $199 Portal looks similar to the new Echo Show with its 10-inch, 1280×800 touchscreen, but its speaker sits at the bottom edge, facing the user.

Facebook unveiled the screen-like device called Portal, which has the Amazon Alexa voice assistant built-in today.

The devices are now available for pre-order only in the USA, and will ship in November. Both feature AI technology that can identify faces and automatically zoom in on them, regardless of where users move around in the room. And how many people are going to make jokes about Facebook opening a portal to... somewhere? The AI used for the Smart Camera and Smart Sound features are also all happening locally, so you don't need to worry about your video calls being stored on Facebook servers. Facebook is also providing users with the option to set a 4 to 12-digit passcode for Portal before anyone can use it. Portal will also have an advantage over Amazon and Google's smarthome devices, being able to call any smartphone that has Facebook Messenger installed. In a statement that highlights that Facebook knows it has work to do to gain the trust of consumers, the company said that the kill switch physically cuts the circuit to this camera and mic, rather than just turning them off, in order to prevent hacking attempts. Portal will also run Facebook Watch shows, which are the programs from premium publishers that run on the social network.

All of the video chatting features you would find on Facebook are there, including group chat with multiple people, stickers, and effects.

The $349 Portal+ has a 15-inch, 1920×1080 display that can pivot into portrait and landscape modes. Portal itself will be fitted out to use augmented reality effects that have become popular on Facebook Messenger. In fact, Portal supports Amazon Alexa, allowing users to control its functions by voice control, as well as ask for information around things like the weather or sports results. Facebook is one of the most untrusted companies when it comes to protecting or even being ethical with its user's data (it practically pioneered the quote "if you're not paying for it, you're the product"). Because the screen pivots, you can have chats in both landscape and portrait mode, unlike the vanilla Facebook Portal which is created to sit in landscape mode only. In addition, video calls on Portal are encrypted, so your calls are always secure.

For a while we've been hearing rumours about Facebook developing its own smart devices, specifically smart speakers and smart displays (ala Echo Show).

As for privacy, Facebook claims they're taking it very seriously.

Conspiracy theories aside, it's good to see that there's a department in Facebook that's putting its money where its mouth is when it comes to user data protection... but the way the Portal is built can also be perceived as an extremely limiting experience too.

Both Portals use AI technology to make video chatting better. You can start a video call by saying "Hey Portal" and then say who you'd like to call. There are apps for Pandora, Spotify, iHeartRadio and the Newsy news service.

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