Facebook Portal Smart Displays Come With Alexa, AI Cameras

James Marshall
October 9, 2018

Hot off the news of a massive user-data breach, today Facebook is entering the smart display wars with Portal, a connected gadget with speakers and a screen, built-in Alexa integration, and even deeper ties into Facebook for people who don't yet distrust Facebook with every fibre of their being. My own grandmother checks Facebook every single day to see how the kids are growing.

With that in mind, the cameras built into Portal are created to intelligently track you as you make your calls.

Called Portal and Portal+, the two devices are geared towards video calling and feature A.I. technology that can automatically follow a person as they move throughout a room and remove unwanted background noise during a call. Facebook has partnered with Spotify Premium, Pandora, and iHeartRadio, as well as Facebook Watch, Food Network and Newsy with mode on the way.

Anticipating scrutiny, Facebook said in a blog post that Portal had been designed with "privacy and security in mind", noting that the camera and microphone can be disabled with a tap and that it comes equipped with a lens cover.

You can use either Facebook Portal to call your Facebook friends and connections on Messenger - even if they don't have a Portal. When you're not on a call, Portal can display your photos and videos, when your contacts are available to connect, birthday reminders, etc. "You can also opt for a 15-inch 1920 x 1080 pivoting display with Portal+", Facebook said in a statement. What about their privacy problems?

Not too long ago the Cambridge Analytica scandal popped up, as you well remember I'm sure.

FacebookHow much does Facebook Portal cost?


Facebook's Andrew Bosworth spoke to the BBC, and admitted that there will be concerns from would-be users about the devices: "We understand that inviting a camera and microphone into your home is the kind of thing that will give a consumer pause, especially for a new category of products around video calling that haven't been really common for consumers to have access to". A camera cover can be used to hide the camera away, and there's also a way to prevent video and sound recording.

The device has an emphasis on video conferencing and comes in two versions - the Portal and Portal+.

Facebook says it won't "listen to, view or keep the contents " of video calls, adding that the Portal camera won't use facial recognition or identify people in the video calls.

Portal and Portal+ are available now for preorder in the United States - from Facebook at portal.facebook.com, as well as Amazon and Best Buy.

Facebook Portal and Portal+ will be available in November for $199 and $349, respectively. Facebook is late to enter a crowded space already dominated by Amazon's Echo and Google Home.

Facebook is marketing the device, called Portal, as a way for its more than 2 billion users to chat with one another without having to fuss with positioning and other controls. In fact, the Portal has a partnership with Amazon and has Alexa's voice and intelligence built in to take commands, play music, set timers and answer questions.

Still, Amazon has shipped 1 million of its Echo speakers with displays over the last year, according to research firm Canalys, which expects 4 million such devices across brands to ship globally next year.

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