In October of 2018, Facebook announced Portal and Portal+, which are two brand-new communication devices to be used in the home setting, and which can offer a dramatic improvement in the way people stay in touch with each other. Making use of artificial intelligence technology, Portal makes video calling extremely easy to arrange, and much more comfortable.
A widescreen display allows users on both ends to enjoy the full background and the setting of the other participant, so that both can feel as though they’re in the other’s setting. Portal allows for a 10-inch display, which is 1200 x 800, and improves video calling so much that you want to do it all the time, especially since it’s a hands-free and distraction-free experience.
People who are looking for an even larger screen and greater flexibility can choose the 15-inch 1920 x 1080 display which pivots, and is marketed as Portal+. Both these new communication methods are designed to make callers feel much more like they’re in the same room with another person, rather than making a call to a remote location.
Portal’s Smart Camera and Smart Sound technology are powered by artificial intelligence, which means all the guesswork can be taken out of video calling, so that participants can enjoy a hands-free, highly convenient experience. You can be cooking at the time that you’re calling, or perhaps chasing the dog out of the kitchen, but whatever you’re doing, Smart Camera will automatically stay with the action and pan around to keep everyone in view. Smart Sound has the capability of minimizing background noise while enhancing the voice of the current speaker, regardless of where the speaker moves around to.
Connecting with Facebook
Even if your friends don’t have Portal, you can call Facebook friends as well as your connections on Messenger, because calls can be made from smart phones and tablets which are Messenger-enabled. Group calls of as many as seven different individuals can be managed by Portal all at the same time. Everyone will probably appreciate the hands-free voice control offered by Portal, especially knowing that you can start a video call by simply saying “Hey, Portal”, and then identifying those individuals you want to call. Portal also has Amazon Alexa included, so that you’ll be able to ask for all your favorite sports results, order groceries, check on the weather status, and even manage some of your smart devices at home.
Built with security and privacy in mind
Security and privacy are uppermost in everyone’s mind these days, especially when you bring new technology into the home setting, so Portal has been designed with all this in mind, and some of the features built into the system bear that out. For instance, you can manage Portal access within the home by setting a passcode between four and 12 digits to keep the screen locked against usage, and changing that passcode would require a person to enter the the Facebook password.
Both Portal and Portal+ are also equipped with a cover for the camera, so that the lens can be easily blocked, while still receiving incoming notifications and calls, as well as accepting voice commands. The camera and the microphone can be completely disabled with just a single tap, when that becomes advantageous. Portal and Portal+ users should be aware that Facebook does not record or listen to the contents of any Portal calls whatsoever, which means all Portal conversations remain between the individuals on the call.
Videos signals transmitted during Portal calls are encrypted, so they are 100% secure from external intrusion. For additional security, the artificial intelligence technology used by Smart Sound and Smart Camera do not run on Facebook servers, but instead operate locally on Portal. The camera from Portal does not use facial recognition in any attempt to identify who you are. Portal only sends Facebook voice commands to Facebook servers once you have said “Hey, Portal”, and you can delete all of your voice history in Portal from your Facebook activity log, whenever it suits you to do so.
Portal also allows you to share activities such as watching some of your favorite shows on television or listening to music together with friends. Because Portal has partnered with Pandora, Spotify, and iHeartRadio, many of these viewing and listening experiences can be enjoyed together. Some augmented reality effects are also being incorporated into Portal, so that calls can be even more interactive and more fun.
For instance, Story Time provides custom sound effects and some fun and interesting visuals which can be included on calls. Smart Camera will help you to read a story by using a Teleprompter, while friends and relatives on the other end of the call observe your face and your voice transforming into the characters involved in the story.
When you’re not using Portal to make a call, you can use Superframe to display your most important videos as well as your favorite photos. You can also use it for important notifications such as reminders for birthdays of your friends and relatives, which will help you feel more connected to all of them.
Privacy and security issues
Even though Facebook has declared that calls will be encrypted, that no facial recognition will be used, that users can disable the microphone and the camera, and that it will not listen in on contents of calls, critics are somewhat skeptical. Given the past problems that Facebook has had in the area of privacy and security, experts are urging people to be cautious in accepting Facebook’s claims, saying that users should trust, but verify these claims.
With the problems Facebook has had in the past in the area of violating public trust, experts are urging that caution be taken with regard to using the new Portal technology being made available by the company. This is especially true because of the nature of the usage of the new Portal capabilities, i.e. having a camera and video filming in your bedroom or your living room, and accepting voice commands.
While Facebook’s transparency in claiming all these privacy and security issues will be managed with the utmost care is admirable, transparency alone will not rebuild trust which was damaged in the past by Facebook. However, if Facebook’s claims for privacy and security are in fact legitimate, the functionality of the new Portal and Portal+ initiatives are sure to go a long way in restoring the public confidence.