Facebook unveils Alexa-powered Portal smart speakers

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Facebook has made its long-rumored entrance into the smart speaker space, showcasing its two Portal smart speakers, reports Business Insider. Both devices will feature screens and ship to the US starting in November. But, contrary to speculation, Facebook's new devices will feature Amazon's Alexa voice assistant rather than an internally developed alternative, which could help to shift the dynamic of the overall smart speaker market even further in Amazon's favor.

Facebook's Portal smart speaker Business Insider Intelligence

Here are some of the key details about Facebook's two Portal smart speakers:

  • There will be two devices, the Portal featuring a 10-inch screen and selling for $199, and the Portal Plus with a 15-inch screen and a $349 price. The cheaper device will include a stationary horizontal screen, while the larger one will feature a screen that can be rotated to suit the user's needs. Facebook says it has no plans to display ads on the devices at this time.
  • The Portal devices will incorporate Alexa to handle questions and queries, as well as to initiate voice and video calling through Facebook's Messenger chat app. They will feature all of Alexa's home-control and multimedia capabilities, as well. Working with Amazon rather than deploying its own assistant could help bypass trust issues consumers have with the social media platform, while enabling the company to benefit from consumers' familiarity with Amazon's voice assistant.
  • They also incorporate AI to help improve the video chat experience. Cameras built into the speakers will use AI to track the user while they move around, even cropping the video to stay focused on their face. Enabling better video calling is the primary purpose of these devices, and could help them stand out over other screened speakers, such as the Echo Show and Google Assistant-powered smart displays.

Consumers may take to Facebook's devices as a better means of communicating with friends and family. The inclusion of AI-powered cameras makes the Portal speakers different from anything else on the market today, and they're priced more competitively than previous reporting indicated they might be. The devices — especially the lower-priced Portal — represent a futuristic take on communication that could appeal to consumers who are either frequent Messenger users or those looking for a better way to video chat.

Meanwhile, Facebook's Alexa-powered devices will likely steer the broader smart speaker market even more into the e-commerce giant's embrace. The Portal and Portal Plus will add to Amazon's wider ecosystem and could also lead consumers who buy the devices mainly for communication to purchase other Alexa-powered devices from Amazon and partners. This is the highest-profile collaboration between Amazon and a partner on an Alexa device to date, and adds another type of speaker with a different set of strengths to the Alexa family.

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