Facebook is planning to launch its rumored home video chat product, the one with a screen that appears similar to Amazon’s Echo Show, later this year, according to a report from online news network Cheddar. The product will be called Portal, the report says, and it will be the first finished hardware product from Facebook’s secretive Building 8 lab, which is an internal skunkworks division similar to Alphabet’s X that last year publicly announced its plans to develop brain-computer interfaces. The announcement of Portal is planned for early May, which would coincide with Facebook’s F8 developer conference. News of the device first leaked back in July in a report from Digitimes.
According to Cheddar, Facebook plans to sell the device for $499 and market it as a way for friends and family to video chat from a communal hub, just like how Amazon has positioned its Echo Show device as a fixture for the home kitchen. Portal would mark Facebook’s first foray into consumer hardware, following the company’s ill-fated partnership with HTC back in 2013. That partnership resulted in the “Facebook phone,” which was a subpar Android-based smartphone that failed to take off and acted as sour punctuation mark to Facebook’s attempt to break into consumer electronics.
Now, with Amazon and Google taking a more serious approach to hardware, Facebook appears to want in on the market just as smart speakers and other home devices are fast becoming avenues to get artificial intelligence in the home. It’s unclear that Facebook would be more warmly welcomed in users’ homes than Amazon or Google, both of which are vastly more trustworthy in the eyes of US consumers, according to a joint study The Verge conducted with Retical Research in October of last year. Still, Cheddar reports that Portal will act as the first of many Facebook products for the home, and that it will make use of the company’s sophisticated computer vision capabilities to identify people through the device’s camera and pair them with Facebook accounts.