Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Facebook Launches New Portal Devices for Video Calling

Nicole Nguyen, Buzzfeed News:

Facebook announced three new products today: the 8-inch Portal Mini ($129) and 10-inch Portal ($179) — two picture frame–sized devices designed to sit on a countertop — and the Portal TV ($149), an accessory designed to sit on top of at-home televisions and let far-flung friends view Facebook Watch shows together. The devices include cameras and microphones designed specifically for video calling and have voice control via built-in Amazon Alexa software. As of today, Amazon Prime Video can also be streamed through Portal, alongside Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, and other apps announced last year. Currently, Netflix and Hulu are not available through Portal or Portal TV.

Notably, the new devices have significantly lower prices than last year’s models, which ranged between $200 and $349. Facebook executives said the cuts are aimed at allowing more people to use Portal. “The most important thing for us is getting our experiences out there, and seeing how people react to them,” said Andrew Bosworth, vice president of augmented and virtual reality at Facebook, at a press event on Tuesday. “We’re not focused on the [Portal] business model right now.”

Aside from price, the other thing Facebook is emphasizing with these new products is a commitment to privacy. They ship them with camera covers and physical switches to turn off the camera and microphone. And to show you that the mic and camera are, indeed, off, a little light turns on — otherwise known as the universal sign that a device’s camera and microphone are also on.

This is something Facebook communicates on a marketing webpage with the headline “Privacy by Design”.

Nilay Patel:

Facebook selling the new Portal for $129 — almost certainly less than what it costs — with @boztank casually admitting it has no business model yet is really something else.

As @ashleyrcarman has noted many times, the tech giants are so willing to lose money on hardware to lock into their services that the entire indie hardware market is being crushed. It’s why companies like Eero couldn’t stay independent.

A pattern for ad-supported tech giants is to encourage more user investment through time and data by offering services free-of-charge and selling cheap hardware, then cataloguing users’ behaviour to sell ads against. This is not a pattern that fits profitable companies that do not fund their operations through advertising and, so, have no need to exploit users, instead choosing to accept money in exchange for goods and services.