Facebook is giving its Portal video chat device a number of updates that turn it into more of a full-fledged smart display: Amazon’s Prime Video service is coming to Portal later this year, the social networking giant announced at its f8 developer conference in San Jose, Calif. Tuesday.
At the conference, Facebook also announced an international expansion for the device: Portal will be available for sale in Canada in June, and in European countries this fall.
Portal is also getting support for additional Alexa skills, including news briefings, and smart home support, all courtesy of Facebook’s partnership with Amazon.
Facebook itself is bringing Whatsapp and encrypted video calls to Portal, and is adding support for Facebook Live broadcasting. The latter will effectively allow Portal owners to produce their own live streams, with some help from the device’s AI capabilities, which automatically track subjects and keep them in focus in its video streams. The company is also adding new ways to look at photos in Portal, and bringing Instant Games and games with augmented reality effects to the device.
Facebook first launched Portal last October. The company has kept mum on the number of devices sold since, with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg only saying Tuesday that Portal had done “better than we expected.” Zuckerberg had been equally muted on the device during the company’s recent Q1 earnings call, where he instead painted it as a learning lesson, saying: “Having Portal out in the market has been very valuable.”
Facebook has faced criticism over introducing a smart display with a camera just as it was dealing with multiple privacy scandals. The company responded to this criticism by adding a plastic clip to each device sold, which can be used by Portal owners to physically cover the camera.
The company seemed determined to further address these concerns with the announcement of end-to-end encrypted video calls. Portal calls thus far have been encrypted server-side, which means that they can’t be eavesdropped on, but that Facebook in theory could access them. End-to-end encryption will rule this out as well.
However, the roll-out for this new encryption layer will be in stages: Video calls to other Whatsapp users will be encrypted right away, but calls to Messenger users and calls from one Portal device to another will only be end-to-end encrypted once the company adds end-to-end encryption to Messenger next year.
Still, some of the new features announced Tuesday should make it a little easier for Facebook to position Portal in competition to other smart displays, including Amazon’s own Echo Show. Particularly the addition of smart home capabilities and news briefings should help close some of that gap. Facebook did not share availability dates for those features Tuesday.
Update: 1/5: This post was updated with additional details on the way Portal encrypts calls.