Facebook May Debut Smart Speakers With 15" Screens In Summer

Facebook is preparing to commercialize two smart speakers this summer, DigiTimes reported Wednesday, citing industry sources with knowledge of the project. The world's largest social media giant is said to be planning for a launch that will happen no later than July after spending over a year developing the two gadgets which insiders claim are code-named Fiona and Aloha. Both devices will be equipped with 15-inch touch screens and the Aloha model is expected to be advertised as the Portal, with that name already circulating the industry for several weeks now. The display panels set to be integrated into the speakers are reportedly supplied by LG Display, with Facebook contracting Taiwan's Pegatron as the exclusive assembler of the products. It's presently unclear how many units is the company targeting for its initial batch and whether it's already planning a wider release or just wants to test select markets with its first consumer-grade hardware.

The smart speakers were reportedly planned to be released in May after already being delayed once but have now been pushed to the summer as Facebook wanted more time to optimize their audio performance, as well as the software meant to power them. Both devices are said to have been designed by Facebook's secretive Building 8 unit in charge of the company's emerging technologies and moonshot projects such as thought-to-text solutions. The Aloha model is expected to be the more premium offering of the two, boasting support for voice commands and facial recognition enabled by its wide-angle lens. The Fiona model is understood to have less advanced functionalities but voice commands should still be part of its skillset. The Portal, i.e. Aloha is also said to support more robust social networking capabilities, whereas both should offer music streaming services with access to libraries from Universal Music and Sony which recently inked licensing agreements with Facebook.

Besides Facebook integration, the speakers will seek to differentiate themselves from the competition with their massive screen real estate that's unprecedented in their product category; Amazon's Echo Show features a 7-inch panel, whereas the Lenovo Smart Display lineup consists of 8-inch and 10-inch models. The two gadgets are understood to be the first physical manifestations of Facebook's major video push that's seeking to position the company as a YouTube rival and has already explored opportunities in the premium programming segment. The Menlo Park, California-based tech giant is reportedly planning to build an ecosystem of such video-centric gadgets over the next half a decade and sees smart speakers as only a smaller part of the equation, with more robust hardware supposedly being on the horizon.

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