More details emerge of Facebook’s rumored Echo Show competitor

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Facebook’s debut device may have crashed and burned back in 2013, but a few years away from the game has apparently given it time to build its team and give hardware another shot.

But instead of a smartphone, this time around the company is thought to be developing a video chat device similar in some ways to Amazon’s Alexa-powered Echo Show. Rumors about such a product have been swirling around for many months, but a new report from live news and entertainment company Cheddar suggests the social networking giant is just months away from the big reveal.

Insiders told Cheddar this week the device is likely to be called “Portal” and cost $499 — that’s $270 more than the Echo Show. The sources said Facebook wants to show off the device in May at its annual developer conference, and start shipping it before the end of the year.

The report says nothing of the size of the device, though last year Bloomberg suggested it would have a display of between 13 and 15 inches, around double that of the Echo Show.

While it could well incorporate some smart-speaker functionality, to separate it from the smart-speaker market Portal is expected to act more as a video chat device to help families and friends stay in touch. So how will Facebook separate it from the plethora of messaging apps with video chat features? Well, the tablet-like device will reportedly respond to voice commands and have the social networking site at its heart, with facial recognition technology working to automatically connect users to their accounts.

If and when Portal sees the light of day, it will be the first product to emerge from Facebook’s secretive Building 8 lab.

The lab launched in 2016 and, according to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, is pursuing “augmented and virtual reality, artificial intelligence, connectivity, and other important areas.”

A Facebook job ad speaks of Building 8 launching “seemingly impossible products that define new categories that advance Facebook’s mission of connecting the world.” Whether Portal fits that lofty description remains to be seen.

What we do know is that any new hardware effort from Facebook has to be a serious improvement on the smartphone it launched in 2013. The HTC-made, Facebook-focused device received underwhelming reviews and disappeared from view just months after launch.

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