Facebook has launched a range of AI-powered video calling devices recently. Facebook’s vice president of consumer hardware Andrew Bosworth told AFP before the launch of ‘Portal,’ “It’s been a big shift for the company. We’ve seen a rise of video calling, on both Messenger and WhatsApp — it has been a tremendous trend.” The device will be available for pre-order in the USA and is designed to allow users to make video calls at home without standing in front of the screen or hold a phone at arm’s length constantly. However, a product with a camera coming from a company which is already being questioned over its privacy and security issues will be getting a hard time to win people’s trust.
Facebook acquired VR headset manufacturer company Oculus in 2014, but this is the first time they have produced a consumer hardware product. Portal comes in two sizes, a 10-inch screen with costs $199 and a 15-inch version which costs $349. To initiate the machine, you need to say, “Hey Portal” and it will start. During calls, it can also play music on Spotify and tell stories via AR effects app, Story Time. The device also comes with built-in Alexa services.
The integrated camera can automatically zoom out to include a second person or can follow a certain individual who is walking around. Facebook has declared that they will keep the process on the device instead of keeping it on the cloud to cater to the security issues. All the calls will be encrypted, and AI technology will run on the Portal, not on Facebook servers. It sends a command to the servers after hearing “Hey Portal” command. A cover can also block the camera, and the device also has a button to disable both the lens and the microphone.
Since privacy and security have been an issue with Facebook, therefore, this time they have taken the responsibility on themselves. Bosworth said, “Frankly if we don’t build the hardware, I do have concerns. You need to have abuse prevention very early on; you need to have security built in early on.” The company has worked with a US film director to make the camera movements feel natural. Nick Fell, marketing director for the Portal team, said, “We set out to try and make video calling so good that it feels like you’re sharing the same physical space as someone else.” There were nearly 1 billion video calls made on Messenger in 2017, and it was double the number than the calls made in 2016.
Analysts said that Facebook was a little late to enter the smart speaker market, however, the technology will be a good move for future investments. Tom Morrod, research director for consumer electronics and telecoms at IHS Markit, said, “From a market perspective there’s a good argument that for consumers, smart speakers and digital assistants are a crucial part of the future. They’re the AI center point of digital life or digital home. That’s why it’s a strategically important thing for Facebook to be doing.”