Facebook to Launch Two Smart Speakers this Summer

Last month, it was reported that Facebook was working on an Echo Show competitor called Portal. This week a new report from DigiTimes claims that Facebook actually plans to launch two different smart speaker models. Code-named Aloha and Fiona, the devices will each have a 15-inch touchscreen display and will reportedly launch this July:

The sources said that the Aloha model is more sophisticated than Fiona, both designed by Facebook’s Building 8 hardware lab. The Aloha model, to be marketed under the official name Portal, will use voice commands but will also feature facial recognition to identify users for accessing Facebook via a wide-angle lens on the front of the device.

The Portal will also include additional social functions and Facebook has signed music licensing contracts with Sony and Universal Music to augment the devices’ capabilities. It is also reported that the touchscreen panels will be made by LG Display and Pegatron of Taiwan has been tapped to build the actual speakers.

A Social Device

With a forecast of 56 million smart speakers to be shipped in just 2018, it makes sense that Facebook wants to get into the market, even if does seem a bit late. Amazon and Google dominate the market currently which also means they have control over the content presented to the users. Facebook wants to take control of its own content and to be able to keep users in the Facebook social network. It is also differentiating itself from the current competition by positioning the Portal and Fiona as social connectivity tools rather than just being another standard smart speaker that also has a Facebook app. The smart camera technology and facial recognition capabilities will set it apart from other smart speakers with screens, like the Echo Show.

A 15-inch touchscreen is also quite different than what is on the market today. That size screen is about the same size as a standard laptop screen and twice the size of the Echo Show’s. The Portal and Fiona will not be discreet sitting in a consumer’s kitchen or living room. We still do not know what the additional “social networking functions” of the Portal and Fiona will be which makes it difficult to see why Facebook finds such a large screen necessary besides video chat. Its size could make it a hard sell to consumers who are used to sleek, small smart speakers that blend in with their surroundings.

Do Consumers Want a Facebook Smart Speaker?

The Facebook brand could also make it a difficult sell to consumers. According to a recent study from The Verge and Reticle Research, nearly 30% of consumers greatly or somewhat distrust Facebook. Considering that privacy concerns are one of the main barriers to smart speaker adoption, will consumers really want to an “always listening” Facebook device into their homes? It could be that Facebook is hoping to re-engage with young users who are the least wary of smart speakers. It is projected that in 2018, Facebook will actually lose users. And they are young users, aged 12 – 24.

Despite those stats, Facebook still has an astounding user base to market its devices to. In Q4 2017, daily active users reach 1.4 billion, a 14% increase from the previous year. Even if Facebook is able to get a small fraction of its users to buy the Portal or Fiona, it could be a success. It also has the luxury of being able to advertise to millions of people without purchasing a single ad. However, even with these advantages, the reported $499 price tag for the Portal could be a marketing challenge, even for Facebook.

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