Facebook is introducing several new features to its line of Portal video chat devices today, most of which have a work-from-home bent. The most significant announcement: all Portal devices will now support the Zoom video conferencing platform.
Seeing as Zoom has had a huge surge in usage over the past few months, this is a very welcome move. But it’s not the only third-party video chat platform to arrive on Portal hardware. The devices will also now support BlueJeans, GoToMeeting and WebEx, all of which are often used in a corporate or enterprise setting. To install one of these apps, simply head to the App section of the Portal to search and download the one you want. All four video chat platforms will be available on Portal Mini, Portal and Portal+ in September, with Portal TV support coming later on.
According to Facebook, each app will have a consistent design language that will feel familiar to existing users of those systems. So the Zoom interface will be familiar to Zoom users and so forth. You’ll be able to see upcoming meetings or tap on links to join a call. Whiteboard functions on BlueJeans and Zoom are supported as well, as long as you’re using a Portal with a touchscreen.
Facebook will also incorporate more of Workplace, its own enterprise platform, into Portal devices. Back in May, Facebook integrated Workplace Rooms, which lets you have video conferences of up to 50 people (it’s the business version of Messenger Rooms, which has the same feature), as well as Workplace Live, which you can use to conduct all-hands meetings, Q&As and presentations, into standalone Portals. Now, these features are coming to Portal TV as well.
Additionally, Facebook will soon allow you to login to Portal with a Workplace ID rather than a Facebook or WhatsApp account. This way, you can choose to use the Portal as a dedicated work device if you wish. Of course, you won’t be able to use certain Portal features without a Facebook account, such as Facebook Messenger or Portal’s built-in voice assistant. But other services that don’t require Facebook logins such as Alexa and Spotify should work just fine. According to Facebook, you’ll be able to create a free Workplace login in the coming weeks.
The Portal was the first smart display to really put video chat at the forefront. One particularly standout feature is its AI-powered face-tracking camera which can pan and zoom as it follows you around the room. A year later, Google’s Nest Hub Max has incorporated a very similar face-tracking technology to its video chat feature as well.
As far as privacy goes, the Portal allows you to disable the camera and microphone, and you can also choose to enable a 4-12 digit screen lock passcode. Workplace on Portal actually requires a local PIN code, which you can extend to GoToMeeting and Zoom apps as well. According to Facebook, the Portal’s face-tracking tech is stored locally on the device, and not on the company’s servers.
Despite these privacy measures though, many people balked at the idea of a Facebook camera and microphone in their home due to the company’s dubious reputation. Sales for Portal hardware were said to be “very low” according to supply chain sources as recently as last October. But as video conferencing grew in popularity during the pandemic, so did demand for the Portal. CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that Portal sales increased by more than 10 times this April, and its Portal TV device actually sold out in March.
As part of today’s announcement, Zoom will also be available on Google-powered smart displays and the Amazon Echo Show. Recently, it partnered with third-party manufacturers to come up with a line of “Zoom for Home” hardware that is targeted more towards business professionals.