From pioneering the infinite social News Feed to breaking down consumers’ psychological barriers around privacy to driving politics and news (and fake news), there’s no denying that Facebook has transformed the virtual world, for better or for worse.
The physical world? Not so much, though not for lack of trying.
Facebook has tried the hardware thing a number of times to no avail, but that hasn’t stopped the social media giant from pursuing another new hardware venture — this time, a home smart speaker that would place it in direct competition with Amazon, Google and (soon) Apple and Microsoft, as they roll out their own home speakers.
Perhaps more interesting (or at least more uniquely Facebook) is the company’s other work-in-progress, a home video chat device. With a 15-inch laptop-sized touchscreen, the video chat device is being designed to make faraway loved ones feel close. Its smart camera can detect and zoom in on faces in a room. The prototype is currently being tested in people’s homes.
According to Bloomberg, Facebook is hiring Apple veterans to build its own Siri-style voice assistant to run on the new devices. And according to critics on blogs and comments sections across the internet, that’s a terrible idea, since nobody likes Siri; the Verge predicted that the Facebook smart home speaker would be dead on arrival.
That lack of confidence has a valid foundation, however. AdAge neatly gathered some of the social media giant’s biggest hardware flops into one convenient list, and it doesn’t paint a very optimistic portrait of the future for these two incubating products.
2011: Facebook had its own button on HTC’s ChaCha and HTC Salsa smartphones to enable easy status updates. The phones completely flopped.
2013: HTC must have hoped that the third time would be the charm, since it paired up with Facebook again to develop the HTC First phone. The phone marked Facebook’s first effort to socialize its Home software, which could theoretically allow the social network to take over any smartphone, but both Home and the First phone crashed before it could happen.
2014: Facebook bought the virtual reality company Oculus, whose virtual reality Rift headset went on sale in 2016 for $600. The price has since dropped by a full third to $400 and a $200 version has been announced for next year, but Facebook hasn’t seemed discouraged, saying it must be flexible in its efforts to take Oculus virtual reality technology mainstream.
2015: Facebook and Eutelsat launched a satellite together. It was lost last year in a SpaceX rocket explosion. Facebook’s fault? No. A sign that the company might be cursed when it comes to hardware? Quite possibly.
2016: Undeterred, Facebook launched Building 8, a hardware research lab that develops DARPA-style hardware, including AR, flying devices and brain-scanning technology (because Facebook’s News Feed doesn’t contain enough TMI; it also needs to read users’ minds).
In the same year, it also opened its Area 404 hardware lab to prototype and test all the hardware on its 10-year roadmap, including solar drones, satellites, lasers, VR and AR hardware and telecom infrastructure. The new space created a new opportunity for Building 8 teams to collaborate with Oculus and other hardware development teams.
The video chat device would be the first hardware product to emerge from Building 8, whose talent roster features former Apple, Google and Motorola employees.
Facebook has so far declined to comment to media outlets regarding either device, since neither has been formally announced to the public.