Surprise, surprise. Facebook’s Portal video-chat device—which puts a camera and a sensitive microphone in your living room—isn’t flying off the shelves, say supply-chain sources and store sales reps.
The device, which launched a little over a year ago, has been plagued by the privacy concerns of would-be buyers from the start.
And Creative Strategies analyst Ben Bajarin tells Fast Company that his sources at the companies that supply parts for the Portal say that shipments of the devices are “very low.”
“The orders for the components were not high to begin with, and the build volumes were low,” Bajarin says. “They [Facebook] never meant to build up a large inventory.”
Bajarin says the Portal is selling in the “hundreds of thousands” per year range, not in the millions.
Rakuten, which tracks online device sales, says Portal accounts for 0.6% of units sold in the overall smart-speaker category, and 3.9% of smart speakers with screens (such as Amazon’s Echo Show and Google Home).
Anecdotal accounts seem to echo Bajarin’s sources. A sales rep at a Best Buy store in midtown Manhattan said they’d sold “hardly any” of the Portals at all. And a rep at the main San Francisco store said the devices sold reasonably well when they launched last year but have slowed since then.
Facebook didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
The irony is that, from a pure technology perspective, the Portal may be the best device on the market. The device uses superior computer-vision AI to focus on the people in conference calls, as if a real cameraman were framing the shots.
“I’ve always said that Portal is a really great product and had some other big tech company like Google or Amazon or Microsoft launched it, this hardware would have done much better,” Bajarin said.
Facebook doubled down on Portal this year with the June announcement of a second generation of the device, which supports WhatsApp video chats, not just Facebook Messenger chats.
The Portal competes with the Google Home and Amazon’s Echo Show devices. The Portal supports Amazon’s Alexa, which runs in parallel with the Facebook assistant on the device. Amazon says Alexa running on Portal supports “most of” the same functionality supported by Alexa in Amazon’s Echo Show device.
Facebook delayed the release of the original Portal from May until December last year because the company was embroiled in data-privacy scandals and feared the public might not be in the mood to accept a Facebook camera in the living room. It’s unlikely the public’s mood has improved much since then.
“I do think the heart of the matter is that Facebook has lost people’s trust to the point that Facebook may never evolve beyond what it is as an online place people see stuff from their friends,” Bajarin said. “Basically, a social wall.”
Marcus Baram contributed to this story.