Facebook has finally unveiled its first two smart speakers: the Portal and Portal+. Well, we say smart ‘speakers’ – like Amazon’s Echo Show, these devices have screens built in too.
Facebook’s new devices are available initially in the US, pre-orderable from today and shipping in November. They use Amazon’s Alexa for their voice-control features, while Spotify, Pandora and iHeartRadio are the launch partners for music-streaming.
“Thanks to AI technology, Portal makes video calling easier and more like hanging out, while a widescreen display lets you enjoy every moment together,” is a good summary of Facebook’s pitch for the products, which will cost $199 and $349 respectively
(The difference between the two is the screen size: the Portal’s screen is a 10-inch display while the Portal+ has a 15-inch display.)
The devices will support video calls via Facebook Messenger, and have features that will automatically pan and zoom the camera based on who’s in shot, as well as boosting the voice of whoever’s talking at the time.
Given Facebook’s troubled 2018 when it comes to privacy matters, it’s no surprise that the messaging is being carefully crafted on this front.
Portal owners can ‘completely’ disable the camera and microphone with ‘a single tap’ as well as coming with a physical camera cover that can block the lens.
“Facebook doesn’t listen to, view, or keep the contents of your Portal video calls. Your Portal conversations stay between you and the people you’re calling. In addition, video calls on Portal are encrypted, so your calls are always secure,” stresses the launch announcement.
Facebook is taking a leaf out of Apple’s book by running the smart camera and sound features locally on the device, rather than remotely on Facebook’s servers, and the company says that facial recognition isn’t included to automatically identify people in shot.
“Like other voice-enabled devices, Portal only sends voice commands to Facebook servers after you say ‘Hey Portal’. You can delete your Portal’s voice history in your Facebook Activity Log at any time,” it added.
But back to the music. All Facebook said was the names of its first three launch partners: Spotify (premium), Pandora and iHeartRadio, while noting the potential for more in the future – it’s a surprise not to see Amazon on the list, given Alexa’s presence on the Portal devices.
While Facebook does have music-licensing deals, they only cover user-generated content – people using music in the videos they share through Facebook’s services (including Instagram and Messenger), rather than enabling the social network to launch its own Spotify-style streaming service. Hence the partnerships.
Pandora has provided some more details on how it will work with Portal. “As of today, all listeners across ad-supported, Plus, and Premium tiers can play their music on Pandora using the power of their voice with Alexa, or share their favourite tunes while chatting with up to six friends directly on Portal’s touchscreen interface,” blogged the company.
“And, when played, music will be magically synced across your Portal devices– as if you we were all in the same room together.”