Facebook is doubling down on its hardware for the home.
On Wednesday, the social networking giant unveiled a host of new devices that it says are right in line with its overall mission of connecting people.
Two of the devices might look familiar: One is a redesigned version of the Facebook Portal, the social network's video-chat device, first released last year. The second is the Portal Mini, which sports an eight-inch HD touchscreen, compared with the ten-inch screen on the regular model.
The third is all-new: Facebook will also launch an "immersive" video calling device that can sit atop or below a television set, dubbed Portal TV.
The new Portal devices are also priced lower than their predecessors — $129 for the Portal Mini and $179 for the Portal. Portal and Portal Mini are set to ship October 15th. Portal TV will cost $149 and will begin shipping on November 5th.
While video-calling is the Portal lineup's signature feature, the Portal TV also lets users access apps like Spotify or Amazon Prime Video, right on their televisions. In that sense, it's a bit like the Amazon Fire TV, in the way that it can make any TV a little smarter.
And on the subject of Amazon, all the Portal devices support the Alexa virtual assistant for smart home control, music, and other tasks — as well as Facebook's own virtual assistant, invoked by saying "Okay, Portal," that can do some specific tasks like look up your friends' birthdays.
Facebook's new hardware lineup will also be available outside of the US and Canada for the first time, with the company shipping to other countries including France, Italy, Spain, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand. As part of its international expansion, Portal users will be able to make video calls via the Facebook-owned WhatsApp, joining the already-existing Messenger support.
'What we see is the opportunity for these devices to connect people to other people'
Andrew Bosworth, Facebook's head of AR and VR, said the second-generation Portal smart speakers — which can be used on video calls in a horizontal or vertical fashion — are meant to be sleeker in their design, mimicking an actual picture frame.
"If you look at most consumer electronics devices for the home, they are focused on the person interacting with the device itself," Bosworth said at a press event this week. "But what we see is the opportunity for these devices to connect people to other people."
He says that the design was meant to allow Portal to blend in with the rest of an owner's home decor.
"The design is obviously very different from what you've seen before," Bosworth said. "I don't think people want to go out and add another gizmo to their house."
As for Portal TV: Bosworth said that it was inspired by the Portal Plus, a Facebook device which had come with a 15.6-inch screen. While Facebook isn't updating the Portal Plus for this generation, Bosworth said that the response from users was clear, and they wanted larger screens.
'When we launched last year, we launched into a great headwind'
When Facebook released its first generation of Portal devices last October, it did so on the heels of a major hack that affected 50 million users and the Cambridge Analytica scandal. While those memories aren't quite so fresh, privacy concerns continue to linger over Facebook.
To address these concerns, Facebook allows users to disable the camera and microphone on the devices by physically sliding a switch. A red light will indicate that both have been turned off. There's also a physical camera cover that can be slid over the lens for users to be absolutely sure no one is watching.
Also, Facebook did say that — like other smart speaker makers, including Google, Amazon, and Apple — it does use a small sample of audio recordings to help train its voice-enabled assistant. On its latest Portal devices, users can choose whether or not to have their recordings used for these purposes.
"When we launched last year, we launched into a great headwind," Bosworth said, alluding to the company's past security blunders. "But our experience has been that people like Facebook and like connecting with other people and this device does exactly that."