According to a report from Bloomberg, Facebook is building a video calling device for the home, in what is essentially a new product category. It apparently has a laptop-sized screen and smart camera technology that gives users the impression of being in the same room as one another.
The technology is being built by Facebook's Building 8 lab and would represent the first hardware to come out of the experimental unit led by former Google executive Regina Dugan. The report suggests that the screen includes AI-powered microphones and speakers, as well as a wide-angle camera lens. It's said to measure 13-15 inches diagonally and the camera could be capable of scanning for people and objects around the room before focussing in on them accordingly.
Already being tested in Building 8 employee's homes, the device is thought to be in the prototyping phase. The earliest possible announcement for it could be at Facebook's F8 Developer Conference next spring. At this point, it's not known for sure if it runs a version of Android or a new proprietary operating system. A 360-degree camera has also been considered, but it's thought it won't be ready in time for the launch of the first generation release.
A standalone video calling device would be a way of keeping people tied into the Facebook ecosystem while offering a compelling new way to connect with friends and family over great distances. It's not the only hardware Facebook is working on, with a smart speaker à la Google Home or Amazon Alexa also in the works. That product would be expected to retail for less than $100, thus considerably undercutting its rivals and giving it some hope of making up some ground. It's also possible, however, that Building 8 will shelve the speaker in favor of putting more resources into the video calling hardware in an effort to increase its chances of success as the first product of its kind.