Patently Apple is reporting that Facebook is planning a “smart speaker-like device” for release in 2018. The publication didn’t cite a source but has a good track record of identifying early stage product development centered in China. The device will be manufactured by Pegatron Technology according to the article and:
Instead of offering voice recognition, Facebook’s device will focus more on delivering a 15-inch touch panel…The device has already begun small volume of pilot production at Pegatron’s plants in China.
This is not to say the device won’t have voice interaction, only that the display with be a big focus. This visual element is not surprising for the home Instagram and number two streaming video platform. Mark Zuckerberg famously hacked together his own Jarvis-style personal assistant with voice and chat control for his home in 2016.
A Competitor to Echo Show?
The move directly to a display-inclusive home assistant is likely a good strategy for three reasons.
- Facebook’s assets and user generated content are almost exclusively visual. The company would appear to have little unique value to offer from an audio-only perspective. While Witlingo has figured out how to transform Facebook page content into an audio experience for Alexa, Facebook’s true differentiator is in the visual realm.
- The audio-only smart speaker market is getting crowded. Amazon and Google are already in market in several countries. Apple and Microsoft are expected to have products available in Q4 2017. Being the fifth or maybe seventh smart speaker in the market probably holds little allure for Facebook.
- Amazon’s Echo Show smart speaker-cum-display-screen has no direct competition today. Business Insider is forecasting that nine million Echo Show may be sold between June 2017 and 2018. A well engineered Facebook offering could jump in and sell millions of units as the Echo Show alternative before Google or Apple have a chance to move past their smart speaker device strategies and into hybrid devices.
Will Facebook Take the Plunge?
There is little doubt that Facebook would like to have a seat at the table in the AI and voice competition. This technology is widely thought to be the next platform war of note. Zuckerberg’s 2016 Jarvis home experiment was part of that exploration. However, Facebook was also widely rumored to be interested in developing its own mobile phone to have a more significant place in the last platform war. The company ultimately didn’t pursue that course and Facebook could back off engaging directly in this platform war as well. Then again, it is hard to imagine Facebook totally sitting this one out. A move that starts with a multi-model visual-plus-voice approach might just be a successful strategy.