Report: Facebook to introduce two smart assistant devices in July
Code-named Aloha and Fiona, at least one will have a very large touchscreen.
According to DigiTimes, the two devices carry the code names “Fiona” and “Aloha.” They will reportedly also have 15-inch touchscreens, made by LG. Multiple outlets have now filed similar reports, indicating there’s at least some truth to these rumors.
The earlier Bloomberg report suggested one device would have a screen and the other would be a smart speaker. DigiTimes asserts both will have screens. Here’s what their report says about the device capabilities and specs:
- Aloha is “more sophisticated” than Fiona.
- The Aloha device will be marketed under the product name “Portal,” which will offer extensive social networking capabilities.
- Music will be part of the experience on one or both devices.
- Both devices will be controlled by voice but also offer facial recognition and a camera to enable video calling/conferencing.
The report further speculates that the Facebook units are the first in a broader ecosystem of smart devices for video consumption and entertainment. Bloomberg previously reported the hardware could be announced at F8, Facebook’s developer conference — although it’s in May, not July.
The two units are reportedly being developed by Facebook’s “Building 8” lab, run by former Defense Department employee and Googler Regina Dugan. They are apparently being manufactured in Asia.
The large screens are a potential differentiator for Facebook, but they could also be awkward, depending on the design. It’s also not clear whether one or both devices are intended to be a smart home controller as are Google Home, Alexa, Cortana and HomePod. Currently, Amazon dominates the market for smart speakers, but there are indications that Google gained ground over the holidays.
Pricing is a key variable for Facebook; the “Aloha” device will likely be more expensive than the “less sophisticated” Fiona. The relatively high pricing of Apple’s just-released HomePod at $349 is seen by many as limiting its appeal versus lower-priced Google Home and Echo devices.
Currently, there are probably between 40 and 45 million of these smart speaker/virtual assistant devices in US homes, with some additional units sold in international markets. The market is far from mature, and Facebook still has an opportunity to succeed. But the company will need to launch a superior product and provide lots of assurances about consumer privacy safeguards.