Facebook Portal Smart Displays Come With Alexa, AI Cameras

See Facebook's first hardware product

Facebook on Monday launched a range of AI-powered video-calling devices, a strategic revolution for the social network giant in its bid for a slice of a market now dominated by Amazon and Google. The Portal and Portal Plus are available for preorder today, and will ship in November.

"The first thing consumers are going to wonder is 'how much sensitive data is this collecting about me?'" said John Breyault, vice president of public policy of telecommunications and fraud at the National Consumers League, a Washington-based consumer advocacy group that has received donations from Facebook and other tech companies. The only other time Facebook tried to sell hardware was in 2013, when it built the software for a custom HTC phone that flopped. When you're not using the 10-inch touch screen for calls, it displays images from Facebook, such as a shared album you choose.

Facebook says it won't store Portal video on its data centers.

Security is a sensitive issue for Facebook which had 50 million of its user accounts breached by hackers last month.

Indeed, CEO Mark Zuckerberg this spring reportedly pushed back the Portal's launch date by almost half a year after the Cambridge Analytica privacy scandal blew up.

The camera can be blocked by a cover and the device has a button for disabling both the lens and the microphone.

The device includes what Facebook calls Smart Camera and Smart Sound technology, which uses artificial intelligence to automatically pan and zoom the camera to keep everyone speaking in view, while Smart Sound minimises background noise and enhances the voice of whoever is speaking to improve call quality.

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It's not just video conferencing with Facebook also partnering with music streaming services Spotify Premium, Pandora, and iHeartRadio, and integrating their Facebook Watch video platform, and content from Food Network and Newsy. If you're looking for a larger screen, the Portal+ is 15 inches wide, with both devices acting as a digital photo frame, displaying images from your Facebook feed when they are not being used to make calls.

Called Portal, the tablet-like device with a 10-inch screen allows users to make video calls with their voice over Facebook's Messenger app.

Facebook has moved into the hardware field with a couple of alternatives to Amazon's Echo Show. Portal connects calls through Facebook's Messenger app, meaning that it can connect calls with people who aren't using Portal. You can delete your Portal's voice history in your Facebook Activity Log at any time.

Portal offers hands-free voice control.

Facebook won't make a profit from selling Portal or Portal+ at their current price points, according to a person familiar with the business. "It enables the Facebook devices to piggy-back on the back of Alexa success".

The speaker comes integrated with Amazon's Alexa voice assistant technology, which provides an always-listening service for initiating these calls amid other functions like setting reminders and ordering groceries.

"Yet the fancy gadget's success depends not on functionality, but whether people are willing to put a Facebook camera and microphone in their home even with a physical clip-on privacy shield", TechCrunch wrote in its review. And we have a healthy business model.

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