Amazon's Echo (top left), Echo Dot (top center), Echo Show (top right), and Google's Home (bottom)

Tech companies are in a constant pursuit of the next big thing, the next niche that becomes an essential for many. One potential hardware avenue for growth is the smart speaker. Sensing a growing market, social media giant Facebook is reportedly building its own smart speaker device.

DigiTimes reports from sources in Taiwan that Facebook is developing a speaker that will also sport a 15-inch touch screen. The outlet suggests the device is already being made and will be launched during the first quarter of 2018.

The company’s Building 8 hardware lab was used to design the device. DigiTimes suggests the product uses an LG in-cell touch panel with a magnesium-aluminium-alloy chassis. As this is very much an early tip, there are no more details yet known.

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It certainly makes sense that Facebook would be interested in the smart speaker market. The company has long held aspirations of being a hardware maker. This has often believed to mean interest in mobile. However, it is arguable that Facebook could never successfully launch into a market as mature as smartphones.

Smart speakers represent a more interesting gateway into hardware. The market is still nascent and niche. There are a couple of key players, Amazon and Google most notably, but no company has made a definitive device. More importantly, consumers have yet to fully embrace the technology.

The more connected homes and devices become, the need for one central hub will become more desirable. Amazon’s various Echo devices and the Google Home fulfil this need in the form of a speaker.

We could argue that one day these hubs will not necessarily be speakers, but that seems to be the direction the hardware is moving in. Indeed, Amazon has already taken the step Facebook is now reported to be taken.

The company’s Amazon Echo Show is a smart speaker/smart home hub with a screen. It is hardly a design triumph, but it is hugely useful if you happen to have a load of connected devices in your home.

Calling

Facebook will undoubtedly see the potential of a smart connected speaker to tap into its network. The device could extend a user’s profile feed such as videos and photos. It could also read new notifications and allow voice diction to make posts.

Calling could be an area where Facebook can make a defining addition. Smart speakers are currently limited in this department. For example, the Amazon Echo Show only allows calling between one Show and another. Google Home lacks a screen for video calling, and for some reason Google has made a hash of integrating its own services, so far.

Facebook could provide a connected cross-platform voice and video calling hub within the home. Of course, that’s just speculation, but it seems likely the company will want its hardware to connect its users as much as possible.

Microsoft too is pushing towards this market. The company has teased a smart speaker that has been developed in collaboration with audio giant Harman/Kardon. Microsoft’s device will leverage Cortana to integrate with connected devices.

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