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The market for connected speaker-video caller-Internet devices is getting crowded.
Already Amazon, Google, and Apple have somewhat similar-looking and functioning devices on the market, as we’ve discussed in Data Sheet before. They play music, grab information from the Internet, broadcast messages, and perform other mundane, voice-activated tasks previously confined to smartphones, computers with keyboards, or living room appliances with remote controls.
Now, with the derivative battle cry of “Hey Portal,” Facebook has entered the field. Facebook’s new device, due out in November, comes with a twist. It’s primarily a video calling toy, intended to facilitate video chats between groups of people. Facebook’s gadget can do many of the things its competitors do, too. It comes loaded with Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant, a sign of battle lines being drawn among the tech giants.
Facebook is counting on its users to trust it with their video calls. (I wouldn’t install the thing in my home.) It says the system only turns on when users utter its “wake word” and that the device isn’t intended to browse the Internet.
Non-device makers in tech long have introduced prototype products to demonstrate the power of their technology. Microsoft and Intel made demo units, for example, to show PC makers what they could do. As well, computer maker Apple thrived because its software was superior, even though it wasn’t a major revenue generator relative to its hardware.
Amazon changed this by introducing market-changing hardware (Kindle, Echo) and some clunkers too (the Fire phone). Devices are a major product line now for Amazon, if only to move merchandise elsewhere on Amazon’s platform. But they are well beyond demos.
The model is tough to resist. Facebook is playing catch-up. But it has an awful lot of users on which to experiment.