Talk about inauspicious timing.
Facebook announced a bevy of new updates today for its Portal video chat hardware that already had some people a little squeamish about inviting the social network into their home via a dedicated piece of hardware with a camera. Those updates, however, quickly got overshadowed by news of yet another privacy flap at the social network, which today disclosed a bug that exposed private photos of up to 6.8 million users.
Nevertheless, Facebook is pressing on and very much wants to be seen as a player in the hardware game, as this new round of updates to its Portal device illustrates. Many of the updates are content-related: Starting today, for example, Portal users can now fire up a new web browser they can use to watch videos on YouTube. ABC News, CNN and CNN’s Great Big Story brand are also bringing dedicated content to Portal devices, and Facebook Instant games are now available for Portal users to play, ad-free, as well.
The initial round of those games includes Battleship, Disney Tsum Tsum, Draw Something, Shake It Up-Poker Dice, Sudoku, SuperBaseball and Words With Friends.
Meanwhile, Portal is adding a new manual mode for the camera that it says has been highly requested and gives users more control over what the camera focuses in on. A Spotlight feature lets you focus in on one person or pinch and zoom on the display to manually customize the focus.
Users can now also share music during calls from iHeartRadio, in addition to Spotify and Pandora. And “nickname calling” lets you call family members based on relationships you’ve identified through your Facebook profile. You could say, for example, “Hey Portal, call my husband” instead of identifying him by name.
As TechCrunch notes in a piece today, the device still has something of an uphill climb in order to be considered a success and to actually make its way into peoples’ homes. Among the concerning notes in the piece, the writer partly gives the device the benefit of the doubt by noting it will draw in mainstream users who don’t follow the ritual beating Facebook takes in the tech press. However, it goes on to argue, “to overcome the brand tax levied by all of Facebook’s privacy scandals, Portal must be near perfect.”
Certainly, it’s not there yet. Which may be one reason Facebook — which hasn’t released Portal sales figures — is still offering a $50-off deal if you buy one Portal device until Christmas Eve.