Portal

Facebook’s Portal device has finally been unveiled, and is available for pre-sales. Facebook has launched two iteration of it’s answer to Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa powered devices, with price tags of  $199 and $349 respectively. The devices will let folks do a host of things that include video chatting with friends and family from the convenience of their homes and offices.

Video calls have always been there of course. However, with its Portal device, I get the feeling that Facebook is attempting to make video calls more ubiquitous, maybe even position them to replace voice calls. While this may sound a bit far-fetched, it is all to possible. Think about it this way: Given the choice, wouldn’t you prefer engaging in a conversation with two senses of voice and vision, rather than one?

And if that happens, Facebook with it’s database of a significant percentage of the population, and perhaps with Portal and other similar devices, would be very well-positioned to take advantage and generate huge revenues. We are talking about a device that could be as common as the landline: Think about the money to be made.

Several other companies seem to have realized this possibility as well. Google recently launched a smart display device, and Amazon of course, already has its Echo Show series of devices out in the market.

Anyhow, Facebook’s Portal devices have been in the news since the past few months. The company today launched pre-sales of the $199 10-inch screen Portal, and another $349 15.6-inch variant. The company also revealed that the device will auto-zoom to always  keep you within it’s screen during video calls. Which means that you can literally walk around while on a video call and you will always be visible to the person at the other end of the call.

In a surge of originality, Facebook has included “Hey Portal” voice navigation, to its video screens. That was a pun, if that wasn’t extremely obvious already. The devices leverages the Facebook Messenger platform to power video calls with friends and family. The device also supports Spotify and Pandora for Bluetooth and voice-activated music, similar to Alexa, which users Prime Music and Saavn to provide users with the music of their choice. Users will also be able to use Facebook Watch to watch videos available on the social media platform. However, the social media platform is planning to include more video providers soon.

Another really interesting feature is the photo-frame, which means exactly what you think it does, and allows your Portal device to display pictures/videos when the device is not actively being used to watch content/make calls etc.

The device certainly seems pretty visionary. By combining the capabilities of a voice-assistant with a video calling platform, Facebook may just have given itself a fantastic entry into hardware. This could be the very opening that Facebook needs to break into the hardware market, and establish a whole new revenue stream.

However, the one biggest concern it will have to overcome before it can hope to counter Google, Amazon and others, and establish any sort of a market dominance, have to do with security and privacy. Facebook’s credibility has already taken hits on that quarter and unless it can bring in damage control, and ensure that such incidents do not occur in the future, it might find that people are wary of having a Facebook powered video screen inside their homes.

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