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Connected Homes October 2019 Viewpoints

Technology Analyst: Christian Feest

Facebook's Second Generation of Smart Displays

Why is this topic significant?

Facebook has announced its latest Portal smart displays. These devices could reduce the importance of geographic location for both social interaction and work and potentially inspire competing hardware formats for smart assistants.

Description

In September 2019, Facebook announced new versions of its Portal smart displays. Among Facebook's range of second-generation devices are Portal and Portal Mini, which have 10-inch and 8-inch HD screens, respectively. A third device, Portal TV, clips on top of and connects to a television. Portal TV uses the television as a display to support numerous functions—which include video calling over Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, video streaming over apps such as Amazon Prime Video and Showtime, and music streaming over apps such as Spotify. Facebook has priced the Portal TV at $149, the Portal at $179, and the Portal Mini at $129. Whereas previous Portal devices were available in North America only, Facebook will make these second-generation devices available in the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Italy, Australia, and New Zealand also.

Facebook's marketing of Portal focuses heavily on Portal's video-calling features. Among these video-calling features are an AI-powered camera that focuses on and follows people in view of the camera, a microphone that enhances speakers' voices while minimizing background noise, and Story Time—a selection of features such as animations and augmented-reality effects for children. A further feature is the ability for distributed groups to watch content on Facebook's Facebook Watch on-demand video service together.

Implications

Whereas other smart-display manufacturers might emphasize other features, focusing on video calling fits with Facebook's social network and stated mission to "bring the world closer together." Video-calling services—such as Facebook Messenger, Apple FaceTime, and Skype—are already in wide use as communication tools, but Facebook may see applications beyond them. For example, instead of simply conversing, Portal users could hang out and watch TV together as though they were in the same room. Even the name Portal suggests that Facebook sees the device as a way for people to be together remotely. How effectively video-calling technology replicates the feeling of physically being together remains an open question, however.

Privacy concerns are a potential challenge to widespread adoption of Portal devices. Facebook has been embroiled in several high-profile privacy scandals in recent years, and customers may worry about handing over more data—such as video footage and audio recordings—to Facebook. Facebook seems aware of this concern, however, and marketing material for Portal highlights privacy features, such as the use of local processing for the smart camera and voice boosting from the microphone. The device still uses cloud processing for "Hey Portal" requests.

Impacts/Disruptions

In addition to enabling people to feel close together in recreational contexts, Portal and similarly sophisticated video-calling technologies could increase the popularity of telecommuting by making it easier for employees to work remotely.

At a hardware level, Portal TV, in particular, could significantly shape the future of smart displays. "Smart Displays and the Future of Virtual Assistants" in the November 2018 Viewpoints describes the potential for virtual assistants to integrate with existing screens instead of acting as separate devices. If the Portal TV design proves popular, Google, Amazon.com, and other connected-home-device manufacturers may also release devices that connect to television displays instead of serving as stand-alone devices.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: Medium

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: Now to 5 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Media, video, artificial intelligence, communications, smart assistants

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas:

Smart Closets

Why is this topic significant?

Both Samsung and LG manufacture Wi-Fi controllable closets capable of cleaning and steaming clothes. Although the market for such devices is likely to be fairly niche, commercial potential for smart closets and related products may increase over time.

Description

At least two connected-home-device manufacturers—LG and Samsung—offer smart closets: Wi-Fi connected closets capable of freshening and preparing clothes. LG released the first version of its Styler closet to Korean markets in March 2011. This early iteration cost roughly $2,000 and was capable of steaming and drying the clothes inside. The most recent version of Styler, which LG showcased at CES 2019, is Wi-Fi enabled and costs between $1,332.99 and $2,199.99, depending on color. The Styler smart closet has storage capacity for between three and four items, which the user can steam, press, and clean remotely via LG's SmartThinQ app. The SmartThinQ app also enables users to scan items of clothing that have near-field-communication tags to find suggestions about which cleaning functions are most suitable for those items.

Samsung launched its own smart closet—AirDresser—in Korean markets in September 2018. In September 2019, Samsung exhibited AirDresser at the Internationale Funkausstellung exhibition in Berlin, Germany, which suggests Samsung may soon offer AirDresser in European and other markets. Like the LG Styler, Samsung's AirDresser is controllable via an app—either Samsung's Smart Things app or Samsung's MyCloset app—and has features that enable the user to remove dust, odors, pollutants, and wrinkles from the clothes inside. According to marketing documents, the Smart Things app enables AirDresser users to enter and download cleaning courses tailored to various clothing types, and the MyCloset app is partnered with clothing brands to recommend specialized care programs according to the fiber compositions of each clothing item. Samsung has not officially released a price for markets outside Korea, but Korean prices suggest AirDresser will retail for about $1,700 in Western markets.

Implications

Neither Samsung's AirDresser nor LG's Styler is a mass-market product. The devices' functionality—though potentially convenient—is unlikely to justify their price tags for most consumers. Further, less expensive devices already provide functionality similar to that of smart closets, such as drying cabinets and trouser presses, even though such devices are typically not Wi-Fi connected. Smart closets may gain traction in commercial spaces such as hotels and airport lounges where people are likely to have both the money and the desire to refresh their clothes on the go. In residential markets, smart closets are likely to appeal initially to wealthy customers only.

Impacts/Disruptions

In a longer time frame, however, smart-closet functionality may gain broader commercial traction as part of a more integrated connected home. As prices fall and consumers adjust to more smart appliances and devices in their homes, the benefits of being able to refresh clothes remotely may outweigh the costs for a larger market. Furniture companies may respond by integrating smart functionality into previously unconnected items of furniture.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: Low

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: Now to 5 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Clothing, cleaning, furniture, fashion

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas: