"Portal" Is Facebook's Screen-Equipped Smart Speaker: Report

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Facebook‘s first screen-equipped smart speaker will be marketed as the “Portal,” Cheddar reported Tuesday, citing sources familiar with the company’s consumer electronics efforts. The device may not be a direct competitor to Amazon’s Echo Show and Lenovo’s newly announced Smart Display, as the firm is said to be planning to advertise it as a video-focused gadget that allows families to stay connected more easily, thus being focused on only one aspect of what other smart speakers with screens are offering. It’s currently unclear whether the Portal is meant to signify the start of a major consumer electronics push on Facebook’s part or if it’s only intended as an experimental project, though no similar products have previously been introduced by the Menlo Park, California-based social media giant. The Portal was previously code-named “Aloha,” insiders said.

While initial reports suggested the Portal will be introduced in the first quarter of the year, Cheddar’s sources are claiming the device is set for a May launch and will be the star of the company’s yearly developer conference. Dev kits are likely to start shipping shortly after the announcement, with the Portal still not having a firm availability window, though Facebook is reportedly planning to commercialize it before the end of the year. While video calls should be the center of the Portal’s functionality, the gadget is also said to support third-party apps and services such as Netflix and Spotify. It will also be able to recognize individual members of one’s household, being backed by facial recognition technologies which the firm has been perfecting for over half a decade after first implementing them into its social network. A wide-angle camera lens and voice commands will also be part of the package, though it’s currently unclear what kind of a solution will be powering them. Facebook’s only AI assistant “M” is soon set to be discontinued, the company said earlier this month.

The Portal started as a prototype created by Facebook’s Building 8 unit in charge of the firm’s highly experimental and moonshot projects such as thought-to-text solutions. Facebook is said to be targetting a $499 price point but may end up lowering it due to the highly competitive state of the smart speaker market that’s been growing in recent years but still offers limited space to non-established players. Facebook will be selling the Portal directly online and is also said to be planning on opening pop-up stores, according to the report. The company’s founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg allegedly told some employees the goal of the device is to be engaging and universally useful, whereas profit isn’t an immediate priority, suggesting the Portal may end up being sold at a loss. Components of the device should largely be sourced from Taiwanese suppliers, industry sources said last year.