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Facebook Portal to add Zoom and other conferencing apps to its video chat devices – CNET

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Facebook is adding videoconferencing apps Zoom, BlueJeans, GoToMeeting and Webex to its Portal devices.


Sarah Tew/CNET

Facebook said Wednesday that it’s adding videoconferencing apps Zoom, BlueJeans, GoToMeeting and Webex to its Portal video chat devices in September, a move that the social media giant hopes will entice people to use their products while they’re working from home.

Video calling has become more popular because people are spending more time at home to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. Facebook launched a Zoom competitor in April called Messenger Rooms that allows video group calls of up to 50 people. People can use Messenger Rooms even if they don’t have a Facebook account and the service is also available on Facebook’s Portal video chat devices.

It might seem odd that Facebook is partnering with a rival but it’s not the first time the company has done so. When Facebook Portal made its debut in 2018, the device included Amazon’s Alexa smart assistant. Partnering with competitors could give consumers another reason to purchase Portal, though some might be wary because of the privacy concerns that have plagued Facebook. It could also result in Portal users spending more time on Zoom and other apps. Facebook’s Portal devices have a smart camera that keeps you in the frame even if you’re walking around a room, making it easy to video chat. 

“The motivation here is to make sure Portal is a great solution for households and for workers to connect with the people they care about. And I think that these service providers have helped us do that,” said Micah Collins, director of product management for Portal.

Collins declined to comment on the terms of the deals with the videoconferencing partners. When asked about whether the partnership would allow Facebook to gather data about what videoconferencing service users prefer, Collins said that the partnerships aren’t about “information exchange.”

Zoom, BlueJeans, GoToMeeting and Webex will be available on Portal, Portal mini and Portal Plus this fall. Facebook plans to add these apps to Portal TV, which allows you to video chat on a bigger screen. Facebook Portal users can also video chat through Workplace, an enterprise version of the social network that’s used by companies such as Nestle, Domino’s and Spotify. The company is adding a way to log in to Facebook Portal with a Workplace account. Users also have to enter a PIN code before Workplace can access their meeting and calendar information. 

The coronavirus pandemic has fueled remote working. On Wednesday, Google also said it’s adding Zoom to its Google Assistant-enabled smart displays by the end of the year. Amazon is also adding Zoom to its Echo Show smart displays this year. Collins said that he envisions Portal being part of a kit of devices workers use to stay connected to their colleagues at home. Some people might have multiple Portal devices in their homes, including one for their kitchen and office. 

“Having a dedicated device, separate from your computer when you’re in the midst of a work day … frees your computer up,” he said.

Facebook hasn’t released data about how many people use the Portal video chat devices. The company also faces fierce competition from Google and Amazon that have also released smart displays. In April, Strategy Analytics estimated that Facebook shipped around 1 million units of its Portal devices in North America in 2019 and around 200,000 units in the first quarter of 2020, representing less than 2% of the combined smart speaker market in North America, which includes smart displays. 

People also use apps such as FaceTime on their smartphones for video calling. Some Facebook users who have been wary about purchasing a Portal device
because of privacy concerns have bought the product to stay in touch with their friends and family during the pandemic. It’s also been gaining traction among older adults because Facebook has been donating the devices to nursing homes and veterans. 

Facebook Portal is $179. A smaller version of the device with an 8-inch display is $129, and the larger Portal Plus with a 15.6-inch display is $279. Portal TV is $149. Facebook Portal is currently available in the US, UK, France, Canada, Australia, Italy, Spain and New Zealand.

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