Facebook could soon become a more prominent presence in your everyday life, with reports suggesting that The Social Network's looking to launch a new voice-activated, video calling device which you could place in your home, keeping you linked into the platform at all times.
As reported by Cheddar, the new device is to be called ‘Portal’, and will compete with existing home speaker-type devices already gaining momentum – most notably the Amazon Echo Show.
There’s been speculation that Facebook could launch such a device since mid-last year, when Business Insider first reported that Facebook had filed a patent for a ‘modular electromechanical device’, which some had speculated could be its own version of a smartphone.
Even then, however, it seemed more likely that Facebook would be aiming for a smart home-type device – particularly given Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had been working on his own smart home assistant.
Tapping into the growing home tech market makes sense - smart home devices are on the rise, with forecasts suggesting that there are now more than 33 million voice-first devices in circulation, with projections for steady growth into the future. And as more of these devices become active, more people will become accustomed to new ways of conducting traditionally online-exclusive behaviors - this is why Google’s so keen to push their own smart home options, why Amazon's seeking to dominate the market.
Facebook, too, needs to be a part of that evolution. According to reports, the new device will include a large touchscreen, a wide-angle camera, microphones, speakers, and will be capable of recognizing faces, using Facebook’s existing tech.
But more than that, Cheddar also reports that Facebook’s Portal will be able to access outside streaming services like Spotify and Netflix, and likely stream them into your home entertainment devices. This would be a major development for Facebook’s broader video ambitions – as we’ve reported previously, while having more video content available on Facebook is a positive step, where they really need to be available is on your home TV, the device which our homes are effectively built around as the key entertainment source.
While consumption of video content is rising on PCs and connected devices, the TV still reigns supreme – if Facebook could provide a device that enables users to easily stream Facebook video content direct to their big screens, that would give their Watch platform and exclusive content a significant boost.
Indeed, YouTube reported in May last year that the watch time of TV channels on YouTube had increased 3x in the preceding 12 months, while watch time for YouTube content on TV screens had doubled in the same time frame.
YouTube benefits from having an app available on various connected devices, including gaming consoles and Google Chromecast - an area which they’re seeking to expand upon with the development of their YouTube TV offering.
Facebook doesn’t have the same connectivity – but maybe, through Portal, they could provide similar functionality. Align that with their investment in exclusive Watch programming, and you can see the potential.
At present, however, the speculation is that Portal is more focused on being a connective device, on enabling simple video and audio calls to your connections, via, you’d assume, your Messenger network. But given the evolving marketplace for such tech, you’d expect Facebook to offer more than this.
For marketers, the development of all such devices is important to monitor. As consumer adoption grows, so too will new discovery behaviors develop, which will be important in understanding how to best reach these users and align with new habits.
On top of that, depending on exactly what ends up being available as part of the device, Facebook’s Portal could offer a range of new data and ad targeting options, while the incorporation of music and video functionality is another source of insight, and another potential ad platform for Facebook to offer (this is especially relevant in the case of video, if Facebook is able to expand their video content efforts through the device).
It’s early days yet, but it’s definitely a development worth keeping tabs on, with smart home devices set to become more prominent in 2018.
Cheddar says that Facebook plans to introduce the Portal in early May at its annual F8 developer conference, with a view to shipping the device in the second half of 2018. The current price is set at $499, though that may change dependent on Facebook’s approach.