Facebook says it wants to deepen connections between people with new video chat devices called the Portal and the Portal Plus.
The devices are a combination of a screen, a webcam and a smart speaker and will initially only be available on the US market. The camera automatically follows the participants in a video call around the room. If another person joins, they're automatically included in the picture.
"Facebook has been quite successful in connecting people across the internet and smartphones," says Andrew Bosworth, Facebook's vice-president of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). "But we also have a big appetite for a deeper connection."
The product is available in two versions, which differ mainly in the size of the screen and the speakers. The cheaper model, the Portal, has a a 10-inch display while the more expensive Portal Plus has a 15-inch Full HD screen. Both models have 12-megapixel cameras and both can play music and speech through their speakers.
They'll hit the US market in November with the Portal costing US$199 (RM829) and the Portal Plus US$349 (RM1,454).
Facebook also wants to improve on workplace meetings using AR and VR. This would involve virtual conference rooms where the avatars of the meeting attendees get together.
"That's actually better than the real world, at least a bit," says Bosworth. "Only in terms of interactions is it not better." The implementation of facial expressions is still a problem, he admits, "but the technology is on the horizon".
Other companies are also working on this. For example, Cisco is working with Spark VR on virtual conference rooms while last year Microsoft brought out AltspaceVR, a VR-based social network where people with VR headsets can meet and interact.
"We will never be able to replace face-to-face meetings and we do not plan to do so," Bosworth says.
But virtual interaction can save time and money – particularly the cost of commuting. So to be able to carry out even a part of personal interactions in the virtual world would be valuable to many companies. – dpa