Portal, Facebook’s device for making video calls that doubles as a digital picture frame, has had a strange run.
Launched in the wake of multiple policy scandals that rocked the company, the device has gone from being treated suspiciously by critics to being more widely adopted by people desperate to communicate with other humans during pandemic-induced isolation.
Now, Facebook has announced a move that could make the Portal more palatable to those still reluctant to put a Facebook-owned camera in their home. The company is adding support for additional videoconferencing services popular in the corporate world. Zoom is the big one, but Webex, BlueJeans, and GoToMeeting are also coming to the Portal.
Previously, video chat on the Portal has been limited to Facebook-owned services: Messenger, WhatsApp, and Workplace (Facebook’s business-oriented social platform). The various new apps will be added throughout September on the Portal, Portal+, and Portal Mini, but won’t come to Portal TV until later in 2020.
In a not-at-all-odd bit of timing, Google and Amazon also announced Wednesday that they are adding support for Zoom to their Assistant-enabled smart displays and Alexa-enabled Echo displays, respectively. Owners of the countertop touchscreen devices—roughly analogous to the Portal—will be able to use them for Zoom calls later this year by syncing the devices with whatever calendar they use for Zoom meetings.
We Need to Talk
By adding a few other business-friendly features in this update—Portal users can log into Workplace directly without linking their personal Facebook account, and Portal’s touchscreen will now work with the virtual whiteboards in Zoom and BlueJeans—Facebook is keen to position Portal as a tool for the age of widespread remote work.
“It’s a trend that has only accelerated and isn’t going anywhere,” says Micah Collins, director of product management at Facebook. “We definitely want to keep investing in making sure Portal is a great tool for remote workers, and we think by offering more choice on how we can call and connect, we’re really making big inroads there.”
Even with third-party videoconferencing support, Portal isn’t exactly platform-agnostic. Users don’t need a Facebook account to use Portal, but they will still have to log in with WhatsApp or Workplace—platforms that are both owned by Facebook. (Likewise, smart displays from Google and Amazon require an account on the companies’ platforms.) Additional Portal features, like its voice assistant and the Story Time feature for reading virtual kids’ books, are only available when logged into Facebook.