Facebook users are used to communicating through status updates and Messenger, but what about video chat? It looks like Facebook is set to launch its own smart home device. The social network is looking to launch a new voice-activated, video calling device which you could place in your home. The device would also serve to keep you linked into Facebook’s platform at all times. To be called ‘Portal’ the new device will compete with existing home speaker-type devices already gaining momentum, including the Amazon Echo Show.
Some Features of the Smart Home Device
Last year Business Insider first reported that Facebook had filed a patent for a ‘modular electromechanical device.’ At the time there was some speculation that the patent was for Facebook’s own version of a smartphone. But even then, it seemed more likely that Facebook would be working toward a smart home-type device, especially since Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had been working on his own smart home assistant.
Set to make its debut at Facebook’s big developer conference scheduled for May, the device is reported to be called Portal and priced at $499. The device marks a first for the platform, its first self-built hardware product. The launch also comes at a time when the battle for people’s time and attention at home beyond the smartphone is heating up.
Thanks to the Echo, Amazon is the leader when it comes to smart speaker technology. Amazon claimed its stake early and now offers several Amazon Echo models. But at the recent Consumer Electronics Show, where Google has a major presence, other technology giants seemed to be taking on Amazon’s dominance.
It’s good timing for Facebook, as smart home devices are on the rise. Forecasts suggest that there are now more than 33 million voice-first devices in circulation with projections for steady growth in the future. As voice first devices become more prevalent, more people will become accustomed to new ways of conducting traditionally online-exclusive behaviors. This change in consumer behavior is one reason Google is looking to push their own smart home options, while Amazon seeks to continue their dominance.
Additionally, the announcement that Facebook is looking to release their own video smart speaker comes at a time when questions are being raised about Facebook’s influence, as well as a broader turning of the tide against the pervasiveness of technology. Facebook isn’t alone in looking to release a smart home speaker, Apple is also set to launch a device. The Apple device was first announced last summer but its launched has been delayed. Unfortunately for Apple, that delay meant missing out on the crucial Christmas shopping season where Amazon said it sold “tens of millions of Alexa-enabled devices” worldwide.
According to reports, Facebook’s Portal device will include a large touchscreen, a wide-angle camera, microphones, speakers, and will be capable of recognizing faces, using Facebook’s existing tech. Beyond that it is expected that the device will be able to access outside streaming services like Spotify and Netflix. It is likely that the device will have the ability to stream these outside services into your home entertainment devices.
While video consumption on PCs and smart devices continues to rise, the TV still holds dominance. Most homes are built around the television as the key entertainment source. Facebook has been actively pursuing new video options for some time, and the Portal could be a major development for those broader video ambitions. While their steps to have more video content on Facebook has been positive, the ability to easily access that content on your home TV would create a significant boost.
YouTube is one of Facebook’s main competitors for video content. But while YouTube benefits from having an app available on various connected devices, Facebook doesn’t have the same connectivity. With Portal it is possible that Facebook could provide similar functionality. Combined with their investment in exclusive Watch programming there is huge potential.
While streaming outside video content might become available, for the immediate future, speculation is that Portal is more focused on providing simple video and audio calls to your connections. It’s easy to assume this would happen through your Messenger network.
For marketers, it is important to monitor these types of devices. As consumer adoption grows, new discovery behaviors develop, which will be important in understanding how to best reach these users and align with new habits. Facebook’s Portal could offer a range of new data and ad targeting options. The possible incorporation of music and video functionality could create another potential ad platform for Facebook to offer. It’s likely we won’t have all the details until Facebook introduces the Portal in early May at its annual F8 developer conference. The devices could start shipping in the second half of 2018.
With Facebook set to launch its own smart home device, expect home devices to become more prominent in 2018. While it’s still early in the game these devices are definitely a development worth keeping tabs on with their potential to impact consumer behavior and available ad platforms.