Facebook wants people to invite its cameras into their homes


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.

London- Facebook on Monday launched a range of AI-powered video-calling devices, a strategic revolution for the social network giant which is aiming for a slice of the smart speaker market that is now dominated by Amazon and Google.

Users can ask for things like weather forecasts, traffic updates, and sports scores, but it's unclear if all of Alexa's more than 50,000 skills are available on Portal devices.

The Portal comes in two variants. As an example, if you have a Portal set up in your kitchen and are chatting with someone while you make dinner, the camera will follow you around the room as best it can so you are always viewable by whomever you're chatting with.

You can completely disable the camera and microphone with a single tap. On top of that, a screen passcode lets you prevent unauthorized use.

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Portal is also linked with Facebook, and is able to provide birthday reminders, notify you when close friends are available to connect, and display your photos and videos. In Facebook's favour, beyond the price difference, is the fact that the company can hook Portal's videoconferencing features into Facebook and Messenger, two services that cover a substantial chunk of the human race between them.

All of the video chatting features you would find on Facebook are there, including group chat with multiple people, stickers, and effects. If you need something bigger, there's the 15-inch 1920 x 1080 Portal+ for $349, complete with auto-pivoting screen. "If you buy the Portal, you have to really want to video chat with other people on Facebook, and do so from one room in your home, on something other than the phone or laptop or tablet that you likely already have". Lastly, Portal only sends those voice commands to Facebook servers which are said after the "Hey Portal" keyword.

Facebook is a software company famous for pushing out products quickly and adjusting later depending on the level of uproar. Users can delete voice history whenever they wish by going into their Facebook Activity Log as well. Both the devices feature a 12MP camera on the front for pictures and video calls, with 4-microphone array for voice input. And to start the call, all it takes is: "Hey Portal".

If you put it all together and just look at the features, it can easily compete with any other smart display on the market.

Video calls are encrypted and Facebook was keen to explain that the AI technology runs natively on the devices, not on Facebook's servers. But even Facebook acknowledges there are privacy concerns. By purposefully excluding many features, the Portal becomes purely a music-playing and video-chatting device. The company is still dealing with the fallout of Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which a British firm harvested Facebook user data to aid the Trump U.S. presidential campaign. There are apps for Pandora, Spotify, iHeartRadio and the Newsy news service.

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