Facebook looks to carve out market for mobile video-chat device

FACEBOOK, Inc. introduced a portable version of its Portal video-chat device, looking to provide a more mobile alternative to Amazon.com, Inc.’s Alexa hardware and other so-called smart speakers.

The product, called the Portal Go, has a 10-inch screen, 12-megapixel front camera and speakers. It also has a rechargeable battery so it doesn’t need to stay plugged into a wall, a first for the nearly three-year-old Portal lineup.

That suggests the Portal is tiptoeing into the market for Apple, Inc.’s iPad and other tablets, but Facebook maintains that the device’s main use is still videoconferencing. And — at a hefty three pounds (1.4 kilograms) — it will be harder to lug around than an iPad.

Facebook will have to convince shoppers why they need such a product. Many tablets have the same capabilities as a Portal, and they’re already entrenched in consumers’ homes. A mobile smart speaker may be a harder sell.

The company is marketing the technology as a way to easily move video-chat conversations from room to room, and listen to music throughout the house. The price, at $199, is also cheaper than an iPad. The basic iPad costs $329, though refurbished models and Android tablets can be found for much less. Apple is currently selling a 2017 iPad for $199, and Amazon and other Android device makers are offering tablets for under $200.

Facebook also launched a new $349 Portal+ on Tuesday with a 14-inch screen and better speakers. That device still requires a constant wall connection and weighs four pounds. In a demonstration, Facebook said some consumers like to use the device as a dedicated video-chat machine alongside their main desktop computer.

In part, Facebook is going after the business videoconference market. In addition to supporting Facebook’s video-chat system and Amazon’s Alexa voice control, the new models will work with Microsoft Teams, BlueJeans, GoToMeeting, Zoom and WebEx. The smart screens also have a digital-photo frame feature and some third-party apps like Spotify.

Both new products begin shipping to consumers on Oct. 19, Facebook said. It’s contending with a crowded season for new devices. Apple unveiled its latest technology last week, and Amazon is holding a launch event on Sept. 28. — Bloomberg

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