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August 2, 2017

Is Facebook developing an AI-powered tablet for video calls?

by John_A

Why it matters to you

Facebook has done a great job persuading people to use its social network. It may soon be hoping to sell you a tablet, too.

So long as its clever AI chatbots don’t re-emerge to launch a hostile takeover of the company, Facebook may be on the road to launching a new piece of hardware as early as next spring.

The social networking giant is developing a video chat tablet for the home, people claiming to have inside knowledge told Bloomberg this week.

Featuring a “laptop-sized touchscreen” and “smart camera technology,” the sources said the device will make people around the world “feel like they’re in the same room” during a conversation.

To offer an experience well beyond what you get with, say, FaceTime on an iPad, the device will use artificial intelligence (AI) to power speakers, microphones, and a wide-angle lens, Bloomberg said in its report. The AI element may enable the camera to scan and lock onto different people in the room, and even pan and zoom to other matters of interest according to the topic of conversation.

The sources said the device is likely to feature a display between 13 and 15 inches and may run Android. Built primarily for home use, the tablet would ideally operate while resting on a thin, vertical stand. As for cost, “a few hundred dollars” is as specific as the sources get.

Facebook has reportedly already built a prototype of the device that’s being tried out by select employees at home.

Building 8

If the tip-off turns out to be true, it could become the first product to emerge from Facebook’s Building 8 unit, which, according to its mission statement, “brings together world-class experts to develop and ship groundbreaking products at the intersection of hardware, software, and content.”

Launched in 2016, Building 8 also exists to examine “augmented and virtual reality, artificial intelligence, connectivity and other important areas,” and, somewhat tantalizingly, to launch “seemingly impossible products that define new categories that advance Facebook’s mission of connecting the world.”

The folks at Building 8 are also thought to be developing a smart speaker, but it’s not known if this will end up being incorporated into the tablet or if the two reported devices will remain as separate products.

These recent reports suggest that Facebook’s Building 8 is making real progress with its debut projects as the company seeks to explore the hardware space like never before. At the very least it’ll be determined to produce something far more praiseworthy than its first hardware effort, a short-lived smartphone that suffered “shockingly bad” sales following its launch in 2013.

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