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Facebook shutters digital assistant ‘M’ and readies video ‘Portal’
The Facebook touch-screen video device will make calls, stream Netflix.
It will compete with Echo Show and Google-powered new “smart displays.”
A report from Cheddar says that Facebook plans to announce or introduce Portal at its F8 developer conference in May. The video-chat device will apparently be available in the second half of 2018.
The device will be voice-enabled and have facial recognition, which will apparently associate people with their Facebook accounts. The Cheddar coverage also says that Portal will allow streaming content from Netflix and Spotify.
In retrospect, Facebook was perhaps too ambitious with M, which used a combination of machine learning and human concierges. The “M” brand will apparently survive and offer machine-driven suggestions in Messenger. The end of M’s expansive original vision certainly doesn’t mean the end of artificial intelligence at Facebook.
Facebook introduced M in roughly August 2015. It operated within Messenger and sought to offer, automate and complete a range of tasks beyond what Siri, Alexa, Cortana and the Google Assistant currently do. At the time, Facebook’s David Marcus said that M would help “purchase items, get gifts delivered to your loved ones, book restaurants, travel arrangements, appointments and way more.”
M never made it out of a private beta, which was limited to 10,000 people in the San Francisco Bay Area. The advanced capabilities were managed and largely fulfilled by an internal team of humans, who are now being redeployed to other groups within Facebook.
The closure of M and the impending launch of Portal come against the backdrop of aggressive expansion by both Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa in the smart home automation and the voice-enabled device ecosystem. At CES yesterday, Google announced a range of new third-party integrations, including “smart displays.”
Portal will reportedly cost $499, which seems high and may suppress demand. The just-announced Lenovo-Google Assistant smart display will retail for $199, while Echo Show runs roughly $230.