Facebook is making a video camera. The company wants you to take it home, gaze into its single roving-yet-unblinking eye and speak private thoughts to your loved ones into its many-eared panel.
The thing is called Portal and it wants to live on your kitchen counter or in your living room or wherever else you’d like friends and family to remotely hang out with you. Portal adjusts to keep its subject in frame as they move around to enable casual at-home video chat. The device minimizes background noise to boost voice clarity. These tricks are neat but not revelatory.
Sounds useful, though. Everyone you know is on Facebook. Or they were anyway… things are a bit different now.
Facebook, champion of bad timing
As many users are looking for ways to compartmentalize or scale back their reliance on Facebook, the company has invited itself into the home. Portal is voice activated, listening for a cue-phrase (in this case “Hey Portal) and leverages Amazon’s Alexa voice commands, as well. The problem is that plenty of users are already creeped out enough by Alexa’s always-listening functionality and habit of picking up snippets of conversation from the next room over. It may have the best social graph in the world, but in 2018 people are looking to use Facebook for less — not more.
Facebook reportedly planned to unveil Portal at F8 this year but held the product back due to the Cambridge Analytica scandal, among other scandals. The fact that the company released the device on the tail end of a major data breach disclosure suggests that the company couldn’t really hold back the product longer without killing it altogether and didn’t see a break in the clouds coming any time soon. Facebook’s Portal is another way for Facebook to blaze a path that its users walk daily to connect to one another. Months after its original intended ship date, the timing still couldn’t be worse.