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Facebook announces Portal, a standalone video chat device

The social media giant has announced its first self-designed hardware device: Portal, a standalone video chat interface. Can the Facebook Portal overcome the company's rocky history in the hardware space?

Published onJanuary 9, 2018

The Facebook logo.
  • Facebook today announced Portal, a standalone video chat device.
  • Portal will cost $499 and come with advanced facial recognition software.
  • It is uncertain whether a device that expensive with such a limited use will be successful.

Yesterday, Facebook announced it was killing off the virtual assistant few people knew it even had. The timing seemed strange because CES 2018 was just getting into full swing, and virtual assistants are all the rage at the event.

Now the timing seems even stranger, as Facebook today announced it will release a standalone video chat device sometime in 2018. While little is known about the physical look of the device, the description given makes it seem eerily similar to the Amazon Echo Show, a device heavily reliant on Amazon’s virtual assistant Alexa.

It can’t possibly be a coincidence this announcement comes within 24 hours of Facebook killing its own half-baked virtual assistant yesterday, can it?

The device will be called Portal, and it was designed by Facebook’s secretive development branch, Building 8. Rumors of the device, previously known by the codename Aloha, have been swirling for awhile. Unless something else is announced in the next few months, Portal will likely be the first device born from the consumer hardware lab.

Portal should launch for $499. Facebook is pushing it as an easy way for family and friends to conduct video chats. The killer feature of the device will be its facial recognition software which purportedly will connect people automatically to their Facebook accounts. Theoretically, this would mean a person could make a video call to one of their friends on the device without ever having to log in. It could be a real hit at parties and family gatherings. It will also have the capability to run apps like Spotify and Netflix.

It seems a little strange, though, that consumers would buy a device at such a high of price point, considering phones and computers work just fine already for the task the Portal’s designed to do. On top of that, probably the device’s main competitor, the Amazon Echo Show, is half the price.

There are also major security concerns about a piece of always-on hardware with a camera and microphone permanently connected to the world’s largest social network. After all, Facebook has a troubled history with security and privacy.

Facebook promises this is just the beginning, and there will be a whole suite of Facebook-designed products in the future.

It seems like a risky move. It wouldn’t be the first time Facebook made a huge blunder in the hardware space. Remember the Facebook phone? Let’s hope this goes better.

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