Is Facebook Portal Too Late to Impact the Consumer IoT Market?

Facebook's efforts to make an impact in the consumer IoT market may be too late, and their integration with Alexa technology is a barrier to competition. Still, Facebook Portal offers a valuable video interface to digital assistant functions and likely represents a bridge to future video-chat technology.

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A phone with the Facebook logo
Illustration: © IoT For All

Video calling is nothing new to the digital space, but the recent integration of video chat to Internet of Things (IoT) devices has gotten people talking, both literally and figuratively.

The most notable new entry to video IoT is Facebook, which in late 2018, launched “Portal,” a range of stand-alone, AI-powered video-calling devices.

This move is an attempt from Facebook to earn market share in the digital assistant space currently dominated by Amazon and Google.

But, will Facebook Portal disrupt the consumer IoT market?

As the first widely distributed and familiar video digital assistant, will Facebook portal make actual inroads against Amazon’s relative dominance in the consumer IoT space?

Portal Integrates Facebook’s Core Capabilities With Video

Facebook developed and launched Portal to capitalize on people’s preference for video and to improve the video-calling experience for users.

Portal makes video calls through Facebook Messenger. These calls take on the characteristics of the Facebook platform, which use an AI-powered camera to provide interactive features.

Portal also overcomes the disruptions and awkwardness of typical video calls by eliminating the need to stay in one place in front of the camera (or giving the other person motion sickness when you move around while holding your device).

Portal can zoom, pan, and frame the picture; it acts like a “personal cameraman” who has expertise following your every move. It gives you the feeling that you are talking to somebody who is really in front of you because you can share real-life moments like playing, gardening, or cooking.

The advanced visual components add value to its digital assistant, which early models of Echo and Google Home lack.

Portal Emphasizes Privacy Amid Past Mistakes

According to Facebook, Portal was created with privacy, safety, and security in mind.

That is important, considering Facebook’s history with sharing user data. Nearly half of people view Facebook more negatively as a result of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

The security features Facebook touted for Portal include the following:

  • Users can completely disable the camera and microphone simply and easily.
  • Users get an included camera cover that can easily block the camera’s lens at any time without hampering the ability to receive incoming calls and notifications.
  • Users can set a passcode to manage Portal access within the home, and changing the passcode requires the user’s Facebook password.

Facebook also allays security fears by keeping the Portal’s processes on the actual device rather than in the cloud, so the risk of being hacked is lower than with a smartphone or computer.

Facebook Portal Doesn’t Totally Compete With Amazon

Though Portal made a splash with its rollout, it actually uses Amazon’s AI technology for voice commands and integrates with Prime to allow people to order from their accounts. The fact that they depend on Amazon for core functionality underscores the fact that Facebook is a little late to the market.

Instead of competing against the established presence of Amazon and Google, Facebook has instead positioned itself as the leading platform for interactive video calls.

This, combined with its integration of Alexa voice technology, allows it to compete not with Amazon’s signature Echo product, but with its new video virtual assistant, the Echo Show.

Additionally, Facebook, leveraging technology from its VR acquisition Oculus, incorporates augmented reality (AR) effects to make Portal’s video calls a compelling experience.

Portal Represents a Bridge to the Future

The Facebook Portal video-call device has several benefits and useful functions, namely its smart camera combined with Alexa voice technology. However, in the long run, Portal is most likely just a bridge between two worlds of video communication. After all, it seems like only a matter of time before people will be able to use large-screen smart TVs to make video calls.

Until that happens, the Portal devices have solidified their presence as a platform for IoT development, though at a later date than others.