Facebook smart speakers could land in July with massive, 15-inch displays

 techradar.com  2/14/2018 9:20:10 PM   Michael Hicks

Bargain-priced “Smart speakers” like Amazon’s Echo and Echo Dot, along with Google Home Mini, have found their way into one of six American households

Now, based on a report from Digitimes, Facebook may be looking to jump into the smart speaker war—up until now dominated Amazon and Google—with two devices focused more on the luxury crowd, developed by their Building 8 division and slated for release by July 2018. 

Codenamed “Aloha” and “Fiona”, these devices will launch with 15-inch touchscreens built by LG Display—more than doubling the Echo Show’s screen size. They will support voice commands, and will focus on “video chat” and other unnamed “social networking functions”.

Aloha is reportedly the nickname for Facebook’s Portal, a $499 speaker that was first rumored last month during CES 2018, and will be an upgrade over “Fiona”. One such upgrade is that Portal will come bundled with a “wide-angle lens” capable of video calls and, Digitimes claims, facial recognition capable of logging users into Facebook instantly.

Bloomberg first announced rumors of these devices last August, and said Facebook would bundle them with a “Siri-style voice assistant”. But based on our Portal report last month, those plans might be scrapped; those sources claimed Portal would not be a “traditional” smart speaker with an Alexa equivalent. 

Facebook's smart speaker is rumored to offer almost twice the screen real estate as LG's 8-inch WK9 Smart Speaker.

A “phone-like” speaker hub

Portal doubles the Echo Show’s screen size, but it will do the same to the Echo’s price tag. Will consumers want to shell out that kind of cash for this smart speaker/tablet hybrid? 

Our Echo Show review felt the devices limited video call options and poor audio quality were definite cons. That said, we’ll have to get our hands on the Portal to see how it compares in those areas. The Digitimes report claims they pushed the Portal and "Fiona" launch back two months to "perfect the acoustic quality". 

Even CEO Mark Zuckerberg reportedly isn’t sure how Portal will compete in a competitive speaker market, but sources claim he “doesn’t care if the device generates profit”. Instead, he “wants [Portal] to change user behavior and encourage phone-like usage among owners.”

Speculating on that user behavior change isn’t too difficult. More and more people are relying on voice assistants for their everyday needs, which pushes a lot of people towards staying in one tech ecosystem—say, only using devices that can link to a Google Assistant, or services easily accessed through Alexa. 

Facebook wants you to keep using their products, and may see jumping into the speaker hardware game as the best way to stay relevant as a primary source of information and services. 

If the Portal is your main home device, for example, you may use their fledgling Watch service more than YouTube, or Messenger to video call instead of FaceTime. Facebook could even enable you to use Messenger to control your smart home products

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