Facebook announced its first set of consumer hardware devices on October 9, 2018. The two devices, named Portal and Portal +, are Alexa-enabled fixed connected displays measuring 10.1 and 15.6 inches in size, respectively. They are both equipped with a four-microphone array and a 12MP smart camera with a 140-degree dual field of view. Portal is primarily designed for video calling in the home.
Facebook Portal is the first device to adapt video calling based on a user's position in the room, allowing users to communicate with friends and family with total freedom of movement. Portal's smart camera is what makes it unique. This uses on-device artificial intelligence for scene recognition and tracking. The result is a video that looks as if it were shot by someone behind the camera, zooming in and out as subjects move and able to enter or leave the scene.
Facebook Portal also acts as an Alexa-enabled smart speaker. Facebook has been working on a smart speaker for some time but had to put its launch on hold due to the Cambridge Analytica privacy scandal. Privacy issues will be a real concern for potential Facebook Portal users, but this hasn't stopped the number of users making Facebook Messenger video calls on mobile to more than triple between 2Q17 and 2Q18 in the US, according a survey conducted by Ovum. The Facebook Portal device features a small cover for the camera, a manual switch-off button for both microphone and camera, and on-device AI capabilities for image recognition, which should help appease users' privacy concerns.
Figure 1: Which app do you use the most for video-calling services on your mobile phone/tablet? (1,000 respondents in the US)
Source: Ovum's Digital Consumer Insights 2017, 2018: Communications and Media
Facebook Portal follows similar products such as the Amazon Echo Show (launched in June 2017), Google's range of Smart Displays from Lenovo, Harman, and LG, and the Google Home Hub. Amazon's second generation of Echo Show will go on sale in the US on October 11 for $229.99. Facebook Portal, competitively priced at $199, features a smart camera but is more limited in third-party-service availability. Overall, Ovum expects the device to sell well in its category and gain a significant market share against the Echo Show and the Google Home Hub in the US. The single-use smart video-calling approach will resonate well among Facebook Messenger users. Whether it will be enough to grow the smart display category beyond early adopters remains to be seen.
OTT Communications Case Study: Facebook Messenger makes play for platform domination, CES001-000019 (July 2018)
Ronan de Renesse, Practice Leader, Consumer Technology and Media & Entertainment