According to a new report citing “people familiar with the matter”, Facebook is currently busy working on a dedicated video chat device for use in the home. This will come with a touchscreen measuring between 13″ and 15″ diagonally, and might run a version of Android.
It will feature a wide-angle camera and AI-powered microphones and speakers. The device is said to be in testing at the moment, including “in people’s homes”, despite still being in the prototype phase. The large screen and “smart camera technology” are supposed to help far flung people feel like they’re in the same room, aligning with CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s mission of bringing people closer together through Facebook.
The video chat device will be geared for use in the living room. One prototype has a thin, vertical stand that holds the display. For this product, Facebook is testing software that lets the camera automatically scan for people in its range and lock onto them. An example of this at work is the camera automatically zooming onto a painting that a child brought home from school to show a parent who’s away on a business trip.
The company is also developing a 360-degree camera for the device, but this is apparently unlikely to be ready in time for the initial launch. Speaking of which, the video chat device could be officially unveiled during next spring’s F8 developer conference. It should cost “a few hundred dollars” when it eventually becomes available.
Additionally, Facebook is working on a smart speaker to go head to head with Google Home, Amazon Echo, Apple HomePod, and all the other competitors in this increasingly crowded space. Facebook’s speaker will undercut those products in pricing, since it’s expected to be “in the low $100 range”. However, since the whole smart speaker thing has been done before (many times), Facebook may just decide to abandon that project and focus all of its attention on the more innovative video chat device.