Facebook joined the smart-speaker race on Monday with two voice-activated smart displays aimed at video calling. The smart displays, dubbed the Portal and Portal+, natively integrate with Facebook Messenger to allow users to make video calls to other Messenger users on their smartphones, tablets, or Portal devices.
The Portal costs $200 and features a 10-inch touch display, while its larger cousin, the Portal+, starts at $350 and comes with a 15.6-inch touch display, which can also be rotated from landscape to portrait orientation. Both come with Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant and have apps that are available to download, including Facebook Watch, Pandora, Spotify, and Food Network. The devices will start shipping in the US this November.
The Portal speakers’ focus on video calling differentiates them from other smart displays, and it could be the devices’ main draw. Here’s how:
Their cutting-edge camera functionality creates a more engaging video calling experience than on traditional smart displays. The Portal devices come with a Smart Camera, which uses AI to zoom in on and track someone as they move around a room, making it easier to interact with a person who’s not stationary or is far away from their device. Video calls on Portal devices also include AR experiences, which allow users to use screen filters and face lenses while video chatting, similar to how Snapchat’s Lenses work.
The devices’ integration with Messenger opens up a large potential audience for users to chat with. As of Q2 2018, Facebook Messenger boasted 3 billion monthly active users (MAUs). Portal users will be able to communicate with this audience on their smartphones or tablets, whereas users on other smart displays can’t. For example, the Echo Show can only video chat with other screen-enabled Alexa smart speakers.
They tap into consumers’ budding interest in communicating through smart speakers. Nearly 23% of global consumers who own a smart speaker use it for voice calling on a monthly basis, with 8% doing so daily, according to a January 2018 report from Voicebot. Consumers are already willing to use smart speakers for voice-only communication, which signals that they’ll likely embrace the more robust screen-enabled communication experience that Facebook’s new devices provide.
If the Portal devices see early success, other smart display manufacturers might start to build out their own video calling technology. Competing smart displays like the Echo Show and Lenovo Smart Display do offer video calling, but without advanced functionality such as auto-zooming and tracking. If Facebook’s latest devices start gaining steam, that could potentially drive other manufacturers to offer similar technology, benefiting consumers in turn.