Facebook is working on an Amazon Echo Show competitor that will allow video chat between billions of users on their massive social networking platform. Just like every other giant Internet company, Facebook is fixing it’s lusting eye on the hardware business and it’s easy to see why.Apple has proven that if you own the user experience you can sell billions of dollars worth of services to consumers. Mark Zuckerberg is also known to be keenly interested in the home automation market and has recently built his own smart home operating system that features the voice of Morgan Freeman (I kid you not).
Facebook has a long way to go in this department. Amazon already has a huge lead in the smart home category. They have formed relationships with many of the large players in this space and they already have hundreds of accessories and products that work with Echo. While Facebook is trying to edge in on Amazon’s new found territory, Amazon is also hard at work trying to jump into the social space with their new Spark platform. Spark allows you to take pictures of you using products, share them with your friends, and write reviews for the items. I can see this replacing their current review system but as a stand alone social network it has little to no chance (just ask Google Plus).
Facebook also has to overcome the fact that many hardware devices fail to gain any kind of traction in the brutal consumer market. Microsoft has built hundreds of failed hardware devices. For every success like the Xbox, there are dozens of massive misses like the Zune. For every Surface Tablet, there is a “Microsoft Actimates VHS Teletubby Learning System”. Both Facebook and Amazon have tried to create smartphones that resulted in swift and almost immediate discontinuation. Even with its giant dedicated superstore, Amazon couldn’t save the Fire phone from being a colossal failure. With that said, their vision for the device I believe is rather noble and if they can pull it off it could be a net positive for society at large.
Recently, Zuckerberg changed Facebook’s mission statement from:
“Making the world more open and connected.”
“Give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.”
Seems that Zuck is feeling a little guilty about the unintended consequences of his life’s work. Unintentionally swaying elections and disconnecting people from the real physical world in which we all live is not what he intended. You can see minor steps in his attempt to fix this problem with the ability to set up physical meetups with friends in facebook messenger app and the like.
The new chat device will have built in microphones and speakers and include a wide angle 360-degree camera. What kind of magic it will possess to “bring people closer together” is yet to be seen but the 15-inch screen (more than twice the size of the screen on the Amazon Echo Show) is a nice start. I’m sure that it isn’t all rainbows and lollypops in Facebook land and there will probably be some form of advertising on the platform.
A dedicated chat device isn’t the only project in the works at Facebook. Former DARPA and Google head Regina Dugan leads a team of engineers in a secretive location ominously known as Building 8.
To date, they have created working prototypes of 3 known devices.
- A “nonintrusive” brain scanner that allows you to type with your thoughts.
That’s right, Facebook wants to literally read your thoughts! What’s even more amazing is that it’s even possible. They have already accomplished this with a surgical implant that allowed a test subject to type simply by thinking. They would like to create a device that doesn’t require brain surgery. Facebook was careful to point out that you will have full control over what gets typed. The scanner taps the part of the brain that has conscious control over what is typed, much like you have control over what words come out of your mouth when you talk.
- A device that allows you to actually hear through your skin.
Accessing the millions of sensors in your skin, this device allows you to bypass your the hearing system in your ear and directly send frequencies to your brain. As you could imagine this has many implications for the hearing impaired or deaf.
- A drone that allows underprivileged countries free access to the internet.
This is a large 113-foot drone that shoots internet access to a 60-mile wide area. While this is currently used for 3rd world countries, Facebook could have its sights on its own ISP.
Regina’s stated mission is to “create consumer products that are social first”. She has spoken out about how technology has disconnected people from the real world and that her division is here to help. As an observer, I’m amazed (and a little scared) about some of the products coming out of the Tech world. Chances are that most of them will fail but when one of them hits. The whole world will change.