Back in February, there was talk about Facebook developing a pair of smart displays with 15-inch touchscreens. By April, the rumor mill had more details about these two devices. One was called "Fiona" and carried a 13-inch display, and another named "Aloha" featured a 15-inch screen. But the release of these devices was delayed because of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. There was speculation that the smart displays would be introduced just before October.
In nine days we will be in October, and sure enough, there is now talk about Facebook unveiling two new smart displays as soon as next week. The devices are reportedly code named "Portal," and the larger model is expected to be priced at $400 with a smaller screened version priced at $300. According to an anonymous source who is familiar with Facebook's plan, the smart displays will feature a wide-angle camera that uses AI to recognize the people seen on the display, even as they walk through a room. When "Portal" owners want some privacy, the camera can be blocked by an on-device shutter.
"Portal" will feature Amazon's Alexa as its virtual personal assistant, allowing users to watch news capsules, follow a recipe, view YouTube videos and see song lyrics while streaming music. Facebook employees have tested the "Portal" at home and retailers have been shown the product by the company.
The big question is whether the public will feel safe with their personal data while using a Facebook smart display. While Facebook purchased VR headset maker Oculus in 2014, it also helped co-design a pair of phones for HTC. The HTC Cha Cha/Status and HTC Salsa both featured a Facebook share button that glowed blue when you had content on the phone worth sharing on the social network. Needless to say, the phones were a big flop. Hopefully "Portal" won't follow in their footsteps.