Facebook is currently developing a “video chat device” designed for use in the home, according to a new report from Bloomberg. The product, which could be announced next spring, includes a large touchscreen, wide-angle camera, microphones, and speakers. In concept, this sounds very similar to the Echo Show that Amazon recently released to build out its lineup of home-based hardware. It also lends added credibility to a similar-sounding rumor that surfaced in July.
Facebook’s video chat gadget is said to have a much larger screen than the Echo Show. One version in testing measures between 13 and 15 inches — the size of most laptops. The company is reportedly exploring the idea of running a version of Android on the device. Bloomberg also mentions that Facebook wants to use artificial intelligence for advanced camera features including one that would “scan for people in its range and lock onto them.”
Several home cameras on the market already offer this type of functionality, including the Nest Cam IQ, which can be set up to recognize and identify people in your home. But Facebook would likely face a more difficult uphill climb in overcoming privacy concerns and getting consumers comfortable with the idea of an always-on camera in their house. Many people are already convinced that Facebook secretly listens to them via their smartphone microphone, a conspiracy theory that forced an official company response.
Aside from the video conferencing device, Bloomberg claims that Facebook is also at work on a standalone speaker “in the low $100 range.” Both the video and audio-only products “would run a Facebook-built voice assistant service” according to the report. In his spare time, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been creating an AI-powered assistant capable of controlling his own own home, and Facebook has also integrated assistant technology within its Messenger service in an effort to add convenience for users. But the company hasn’t yet made official any plans to directly challenge Amazon and Google in the home. Both hardware products are being developed by Facebook’s experimental Building 8 lab, which is also rumored to be exploring the idea of a modular smartphone.
Still, the pair of product rumors hint that Facebook is growing tired of sitting it out as voice-powered devices like the Echo and Google Home rise in popularity. Apple’s HomePod speaker is scheduled for release later this year and would also beat Facebook to market if the spring timeframe — coinciding with the company’s F8 conference — proves accurate.
The Oculus Rift might not be Facebook’s only hardware product for much longer.