Face­book said to be test­ing video chat de­vice

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - MARK GURMAN AND SARAH FRIER

Face­book is ap­par­ently work­ing on a video chat de­vice for the home — the first ma­jor hard­ware prod­uct from its ex­per­i­men­tal Build­ing 8 lab.

Fea­tur­ing a lap­top-sized touch screen, the de­vice rep­re­sents a new prod­uct cat­e­gory and could be announced as soon as next spring’s F8 de­vel­oper con­fer­ence, ac­cord­ing to peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the mat­ter.

They say the large screen and smart cam­era tech­nol­ogy could help far-flung peo­ple feel like they’re in the same room, which aligns with chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer Mark Zucker­berg’s mis­sion of bring­ing Face­book users closer to­gether.

The de­vice is in the pro­to­type phase but is al­ready be­ing tested in peo­ple’s homes.

The so­cial me­dia gi­ant is work­ing on at least one other prod­uct — a stand­alone smart speaker that would com­pete with the Ama­zon Echo and Google Home, said the peo­ple, who asked not be named dis­cussing unan­nounced prod­ucts.

Face­book is hir­ing Ap­ple vet­er­ans to help it cre­ate a Siri-style voice as­sis­tant that would run on both de­vices, they said.

The new de­vices rep­re­sent a new phase in Face­book’s hard­ware am­bi­tions.

Last year, the Build­ing 8 lab was set up to help Face­book de­velop its own hard­ware and keep con­sumers locked into its ecosys­tem — the news feed, Face­book live, video calling and more.

Build­ing 8 is staffed with hard­ware vet­er­ans and led by for­mer Google ex­ec­u­tive Regina Du­gan.

Speak­ing at the most re­cent F8 con­fer­ence in April, Du­gan said the goal was to “cre­ate and ship new, cat­e­gory-defin­ing con­sumer prod­ucts that are so­cial first.”

She spoke about how tech­nol­ogy has made it eas­ier to con­nect, but also has con­fined peo­ple to their phones so that they don’t in­ter­act with the phys­i­cal world as much.

“I’m op­ti­mistic that tech­nol­ogy can help, that new hard­ware plat­forms can chip away at false choices,” Du­gan said, ex­plain­ing how her re­la­tion­ship with her mother was im­proved through daily phone calls on her way to a cof­fee shop. “If we fail it’s gonna suck.” Geared to the liv­ing room, the video chat de­vice will fea­ture a wide-an­gle cam­era lens, mi­cro­phones and speak­ers that are all pow­ered by ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence.

Face­book is test­ing a fea­ture that would al­low the cam­era to scan for peo­ple in its range and lock onto them, one of the peo­ple said. For ex­am­ple, the cam­era could zoom onto a paint­ing that a child brought home from school to show to a par­ent away on a busi­ness trip.

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