The Internet of Things (IoT) is expanding, and smart-home gadgets are pushing the digital envelope. With smart speaker sales expected to reach $5.5 billion by 2022, Facebook is planning to cash in. Rivalling Amazon’s Echo Show and Google Home, the smart speaker reportedly will combine a touch screen to enable video calls. Mark Zuckerberg’s fascination with AI for a smart home as already resulted in his home automation system, Jarvis, an homage to Ironman’s AI system. Facebook’s Building 8 lab, which was set up to develop hardware, with an aim to “create and ship new, category-defining consumer products that are social first’, is already experimenting with AI applications including a “brain-computer interface.” Building 8 is led by former DARPA director and Googler, Regina Dugan, and its head of new product introduction, Bernard Richardson, was previously associated with Amazon’s Echo speaker. Although Facebook has not yet confirmed whether the smart speaker and the video chat device are going to be combined, or a standalone speaker is being developed, it has filed a patent application for “modular electromechanical device“, a lego-like device with attachable components such as a speaker, microphone, touch pad, GPS system, and a display screen. At the recent Facebook Developer Conference: F8, Dugan said, ‘I’m optimistic that technology can help, that new hardware platforms can chip away at false choices.’
According to tech tipster, Ronald Quandt, Facebook is definitely developing a ‘touch panel controller’ called Gizmo, which will be manufactured by Taiwanese company, Quanta, and likely passed through FCC (Federal Communications Commission) which ‘regulates interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories.’ Reports suggest that the smart speaker will be touchscreen-enabled, with a 15-inch touch panel, a magnesium-aluminium-alloy chassis, and possibly a wide-angle camera with 360 degree capabilities. Whether the device will be supported by voice assistance similar to Apple’s Siri is also not yet confirmed. Considering Building 8’s team combining consumer hardware expertise, innovative products that establish a new product category is expected. However, Facebook reportedly wants to sell the gadget in the ‘low $100 range’, so it’s likely the smart speaker is a standalone product. Expected to be launched in 2018, the device is rumoured to be manufactured by Taiwanese electronics company Pegatron, which already manufactures products for Apple and Microsoft.
Since no official confirmation has yet been provided by Facebook, currently speculation is leaning towards a smart speaker combined with a video chat device, resulting in expanding Facebook’s reach from a social media platform of photos, videos and messaging, to extensive applications within the user’s home. According to Global Data analyst Avi Greengart, ‘Think Facebook in the kitchen: tasty recipe videos, photos of your niece, upcoming events. It’s not crazy to think some consumers would welcome it, especially if positioned as a digital picture frame/smart speaker.’
With Facebook’s current tally at 2 billion users, and its penchant for data harvesting and monetisation via Facebook Insights and Topic Data, experts are wary of the possibilities of a Facebook device that integrates a smart-home gadget with its social network that includes Instagram and VR pioneer, Oculus. Not surprisingly, a recent Morning Consult/POLITICO poll found that 28% don’t trust Facebook “at all” with their personal data, and 34% had “not very much” trust in the company. According to another poll by Reason-Rupe in 2013, 61% of surveyed Americans “do not trust Facebook at all” to protect their personal information and privacy. Considering the specifics of the smart speaker are yet to be confirmed, any device from Facebook will likely be social media orientated, with applications possibly combining voice technology and video chatting capabilities. Facebook’s hardware ambitions, as an extension of its profiteering from user data, will continue. But as Apple’s upcoming HomePod, and Samsung’s smart speaker in development are also in the race, digital privacy in the IoT age is set to become an expensive commodity.