Does the Hacker Way Limit Innovation

I finally purchased a Facebook Portal TV today after a friend’s recommendation in March. (Note friend is an engineer at Facebook) I am too excited to make video calls from my TV. Today, I called my grandmother and in-laws and (like a kid with a new toy) shared all the cool effects of the portal. But, after two calls, I quickly ran out of people I felt comfortable video calling while laying on my couch.

But there are other features included with Portal TV that led to hours of fun with the kids. The biggest hit with the kids was the storytime feature, where I could read a story and the kids could see themselves on the screen with applied filters and effects.

There’s a Watch Together feature for watching Facebook Watch videos. Netflix and Prime Video are recently added as apps on the Portal TV — and I’m crossing fingers that Watch Together will be available for Netflix and Prime Video soon.

I’m really digging the portal but also feeling pessimistic about the future development of the product at Facebook. Portal launched two years ago and Portal TV launched late last year and received heavy backlash on privacy concerns. In March, there was a small uptick in popularity as people were searching for new ways to stay connected during a pandemic and buying the product for their grandparents. Now the Christmas holidays (major gift giving season) has just ended and I’m not hearing much in these streets (tech reviews and social media) about the Portal TV or other Portal products.

An external perspective and over-simplified view on why we haven’t heard much on these products is that big tech companies are not great at developing and sustaining new products. They overly focus on the technology and put less emphasis on the business case. There has been many high potential products launched by a Google or Facebook (knocking off smaller competitors) only for the product to be discontinued within two years of launch. Google Glass is a good example of this. One can argue that the product was a great product focused on the wrong market (the consumer market); and Google’s loud launch killed development at other companies which may have helped health and education industries.

I’ve seen a couple of advertisements for Facebook’s portal, the latest featuring comedian Leslie Jones calling friends using portal. Many of the advertisements anchor on single people using product, which makes me think that Facebook really doesn’t know who the product is for. Single people may just be fine using their existing device to video call family members or friends. There is likely a missed opportunity to target parents with younger children — like me, who’s tired of sharing my phone with my 5 year old to use silly filters and effects in photo apps — but not comfortable giving my 5 year old his own personal device. For me, the TV serves as a anchor location where I can still engage in what he’s doing. Or maybe there was a missed opportunity to connect with elementary schools who were forced to identify creative ways to educate young children during a pandemic and only came up with giving them laptops and Zoom to use all day.

What are your thoughts? Is the Facebook Portal doomed as a product? If your response is, ‘I never heard of it’ — then this may prove the point.

***forgive typos, written from phone with kids at ankle***

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About Hadiyah

Practicing loving God, neighbors, and myself daily. Leveraging venture capital to advance racial equity at HBCUvc.