Facebook is turning Portal into a Trojan horse for the enterprise: The smart display is getting native apps for Zoom, Webex, BlueJeans and GoToMeeting starting next month, the social media giant announced Wednesday. This will allow Portal owners to use the device for their video calls while working from home. It also sets Facebook up to sell to the enterprise and compete more directly with companies like Logitech once offices open back up.
Native support for third-party video calling apps includes Portal features like object tracking that keeps callers in frame even when they move throughout the room, and noise cancellation via the device's far-field microphones. Consumers who want to use Portal for work without connecting it to their private social media accounts can now also log in with their Facebook Workplace accounts, and both Workplace as well as third-party apps like Zoom and GoToMeeting will support access controls via PIN to make sure toddlers don't inadvertently dial into company meetings.
Then again, having your kids on camera isn't all that uncommon these days. "It's been an unprecedented year," admitted Facebook Portal Director of Product Management Micah Collins during a conversation with Protocol this week. "We are meeting a market that has gone through a crash course in video calling."
A market, one might add, that's also desperately looking to improve the quality of video calls during shelter-in-place, with webcams having been sold out everywhere for months. By positioning the device as a better way to Zoom from home, Facebook could fill a significant gap in the market, and a starting price of $129 could further boost Portal sales.
That's a notable change in fortune for the device, which was widely panned at launch just two years ago. Back then, Facebook was still struggling with the fallout from the Cambridge Analytica scandal, and the idea to put Facebook-made hardware with a camera into one's home seemed like a bad joke to many people. It didn't exactly help that the first-generation Portals, including Portal+ with its massive 15.6-inch swivel screen, looked pretty clunky.
Fast forward to the pandemic summer of 2020, and that huge screen suddenly seems like a good idea. "This screen size is actually magical," said Collins, who was using a Portal+ for our video call.
Going forward, Facebook wants to figure out what else a dedicated second screen on your desk could do, and how Portal can be smarter about the room and context it is placed in. A smart display in our kitchen may fulfill very different needs than one in your home office, Collins said. "We are very bullish on exploring different screen sizes and different surfaces around the home."
Facebook also wants to figure out how to best adapt Portal for use in offices and is looking to add dedicated tech support for corporate customers. The company has yet to announce specifics about its plans to bring Portal to the enterprise, but Collins suggested that it may offer bulk purchase options and more in the coming months. Adding video calling was very much a first step, he said: "We see bringing these partners on board as critical."