One of the reasons Facebook stands above all other social media networks, is that it isn’t just a social media network. Facebook is a technology giant. That’s why it is in the same category as Google, Apple and Amazon. A lot of this tech is deployed behind the scenes, but we frequently see consumer tech announcements which allude to much loftier ambitions for Facebook.
Facebook Portal is one of those ambitious projects that has a connection to social networking, but also shows that there’s thinking for a more extended reach into the homes of those that currently use the platform.
Facebook Portal itself is a video chat device which comes in the form of two screen options, one 10-inch and the other 15.6-inch, with the latter having the ability to be rotated into portrait orientation. Portal allows you to video chat through Facebook Messenger, you can also view Facebook Watch and listen to streaming services like Spotify. Interestingly, you can’t view YouTube on these internet connected screens. The fact that YouTube access isn’t enabled shows how competitive things have gotten between Facebook and YouTube, in terms of online video consumption.
The small screen device is $200 and the larger screen $350. The question has to be, who is going to pay $200 or more for a video chat option purely for Facebook Messenger? Where’s the demand for that specific feature? Surely you can simply do that through your laptop, tablet or desktop?
As part of the announcement, Facebook highlighted that despite being integrated with voice assistant Alexa, conversation will not be listened to and both the microphone and camera can be disabled for greater privacy security. There’ve been suggestions that Facebook was going to announce Facebook portal during the F8 conference, but privacy concerns meant that the launch was delayed, not that now is a particularly good time, it’s just slightly better than it was back then.
But the point of this device isn’t to wow consumers and be a significant boon to Facebook’s business. This is a public test of a product and proposition that Facebook will refine over the coming years. There will be a future where we communicate with friends, family and other contacts through video chat enabled screens. If Facebook aren’t constantly looking at when that tech is ready, then they could miss the boat altogether. A few product launches that won’t sell in the millions will be well worth the information and feedback that goes into the device that does eventually sell in the billions.