Facebook's Hard Landing with Hardware
When Facebook launched the Portal as an attempt to enter the smart display space in direct competition to Amazon's Echo Show and Google's Nest Hub, there were murmurs around how something resembling a digital photo frame can work as a stand-alone piece of hardware in what is becoming an increasingly IoT world.
The company, which isn't known for building great hardware (at least not until this point in time), seems to be making a concerted effort at capturing a share of the video connectivity and entertainment business with the Portal devices and the Oculus virtual reality bit. Without doubt, both these ideas make sense to a company that makes connecting people it's business and revenue model.
The question is should they do what competitors seem to be doing? If Google can create everything in-house as with Amazon and Apple can suddenly shift its focus to generating content after being in the hardware business for decades, why not Facebook? That they haven't done so in the past isn't a reason for not doing so in the future.
By the look of things, the Portal seems to be getting a few oohs and aahs from those who've tried it out post its launch earlier this week. Of course, the reviewers are also quick to point out that they aren't quite convinced of the need for a digital photo-frame lookalike sitting in a corner of their living room and getting their attention when the need for a video call comes calling.
Writing on CNBC.com, Todd Hasleton is quite unequivocal while suggesting that while the latest Portal is a marked improvement over the model he had tested last year, as well as the best video chat device of its kind, devices from Google and Amazon have a clear edge as they can do more for users.
The gadget, costing $129 for the 8-inch version, is great for video calls, so long as the people you're calling use Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp but Portal lets you call only four for one chat, a far cry from the 32 people you can call at one time using Apple's FaceTime. But, that's not the problem as Todd illustrates immediately thereafter.
"Most of my family doesn't actively use Facebook anymore, but folks with Facebook Messenger can call up to eight people at once." Which means having a Portal actually reduces the number of family members one can add to call. So, why bother with a new gadget when one can use the laptop to achieve better results across a wider audience?
Of course, there's lots to like too as Portal allows users some of the tricks that Instagram does using augmented reality. One can grow a moustache, listen to music together and eventually even play games on virtual reality when the Oculus gets integrated. The article also gives a thumbs-up to the quality of microphones and the camera that can follow people around the room. Definitely an improvement over FaceTime and the rest that often turns you into a zombie before the camera. This is definitely a space where the Portal scores over competition.
Writing for the Wired.com, Adrienne So too finds some of these features quite cool but is not quite comfortable about what Facebook may do in future with the Portal and its other businesses. "Products don't exist in a vacuum, and it's getting harder to make the decision to buy or use them without that context," she says.
In the past, there was concern over how Facebook Live would remove the lines around privacy from our living rooms and how it's Horizon could turn the world into virtual reality addicts, thus moving us away from the touch-and-feel of our family and friends. Given the history of Facebook in this regard, it becomes tough to adopt new hardware that silently sits in one's kitchen displaying pictures that we upload on it from time to time and livens up only when we seek to connect with others halfway across the globe.
The question that rankles is this: Does the Portal really shut off when we aren't using it?
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