Facebook is reportedly working on dedicated video chat hardware, per a new report by Bloomberg. The device is said to be the inaugural major product from Facebook's hardware-focused Building 8 product development lab, and will include a notebook-sized display. It's intended to make video chat participants separated geographically feel like they're together in the same space, the report claims.
Bloomberg's report also claims Building 8 is developing a separate smart speaker product, similar to Amazon's Echo and Google Home, which would use a voice assistant developed by the social network provider. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg developed his own home voice assistant as part of a project resulting from his annual resolutions, which in 2016 focused on building a smart home companion similar to Jarvis from Iron Man.
This isn't the first we've heard of a smart speaker in development at Facebook – a report last week sourced from DigiTimes suggested that the company's supply chain sources indicated a smart speaker with an integrated 15-inch display was on track for a potential first quarter 2018 launch.
Based on the details of this new report, it sounds like the smart speaker and device with a 15-inch display may actually be two separate products. The 15-inch screen would fit with this fresh suggestion of a device with a laptop-sized screen tailored for video chat, at least.
Bloomberg also says the video chat gadget will include a wide-angle camera, built-in microphones and speakers, with artificial intelligence tech used to improve its photographic (offering zoom and lock features on people's faces) and audio performance. In testing, it's being supported by a thin stand that supports the display, which could reportedly be between 13 and 15-inches in size. FB is said to be considering Android for the OS, rather than its own in-house operating system.
Facebook has also tested a 360-degree camera for the device, which would fit with their push to bring 360 video to their social platform, but that won't be ready in time for its initial planned product launch. It's reportedly set to retail for "a few hundred dollars," Bloomberg reports, with the standalone smart speaker aiming to sell for somewhere around $100; that speaker could be sidelined entirely, too, if Facebook decides to focus entirely on the video chat hardware.
A video chat device could make sense for Facebook in a number of ways, including as a way to lower the friction of video chat to make it accessible to a broad user base, rather than making it an additional service that requires logins and apps on platforms designed for general purpose use. Plus, it could integrate with Facebook Messenger, making that chat platform even more of a default option for broad communication, and helping it grow as a customer service transaction platform at the same time.
Additional reporting by Josh Constine.