Facebook’s Portal line didn’t get off to the smoothest start when it launched back in 2018. The company no doubt realized from the outset that it would have a lot to prove on the privacy front when attempting to convince users to essentially invite a Facebook-powered camera into their living quarters. And in the intervening years, it has made a point to demonstrate that it’s privacy and security first for the social media giant.
Recent months have also seen the company looking to branch out from the friends and family angle, into teleconferencing. Certainly it makes sense to strike while the iron is hot on that front, as remote work has become the standard for most office jobs — and will likely continue to remain as such for some time to come.
Following up the recent announcement of the business-themed Workplace on Portal, Facebook this morning announced the smart display will be getting apps from four of the top teleconferencing companies: BlueJeans (now part of our parent company, Verizon), GoToMeeting, WebEx and Zoom. Facebook notes that the apps won’t be coordinated on the same day, but all of the apps will be arriving at some point in September for the Portal Mini, standard Portal and Portal+. Portal TV support is coming later.
It’s a big morning for Zoom, in particular. The popular service made its own separate announcement this morning, noting that — in addition to Portal — its Zoom for Home offering will also be arriving on Amazon’s Echo Show and Google’s Nest Hub Max. That’s a hat trick for the top home smart screens. The other platforms will be getting Zoom after Portal, at some point before the end of the year.
The appeal is clear, of course. Zoom notably has launched its own teleconferencing appliance, as have some third-party hardware companies, like the Y Combinator-backed Sidekick. That solution in particular was an interesting one due to its always-on approach — an attempt to better approximate in-person working conditions. After all, what are these sorts of devices about, if not trying to hammer out what the new normal is going look like moving forward.
For its part, Facebook says it’s actively exploring various ways to convert its device to the work setting. That includes things like custom and blurred backgrounds, which are coming to Workplace and will arrive on WebEx day-of, with additional support for other apps dependent on the developers. If you’ve ever teleconferenced from your living room, you no doubt know what a lifesaver those can be.
What will also be interesting to see is whether companies plan to offer bulk purchasing for these devices for enterprises. Facebook says it currently has nothing to announce on that front (“stay tuned”), but I wouldn’t be surprised to see that sort of feature introduced for some of these products in the not-so-distant future, as they look to compete with more traditional teleconferencing products. Mileage will certainly vary depending on how much trust businesses are willing to put into Facebook/Google/Amazon.
As the pandemic continues to wear on, however, these sorts of devices will only grow more attractive as a method for keeping remote employees always-connected.