“Hey Portal” is the built in wake word to control Facebook related activities. Using “Alexa” allows the user to control Skills and functionality through that service. There are a few big takeaways from this “little” fact.
The first is that Facebook Portal will demonstrate the power of AVS running on third party device. You can have a lot of functionality that is outside the realm of Alexa accessible through Alexa. This has now extended to Facebook Messenger. As an endpoint for Alexa, it could potentially mean control of the device by other Alexa powered devices. Maybe you can start a Facebook Portal chat via your Echo Dot? Or perhaps streaming audio is possible by adding it to Alexa’s smart home devices. The same applies if Google Assistant is enabled on the hardware. Could Google Assistant then launch Facebook Portal (now that it’s out of the Plus business)?
If you already have mic and speakers on your device and have designed for far field voice interaction, the cost of adding additional voice assistants is marginal. Yes, it’s still complex especially when figuring out how the AI assistants and any local voice control will interact with each oter but that’s a matter of programming vs adding more hardware.
The bigger question is what does this mean between Google, Amazon, and Facebook? Amazon has some competing features but the biggest is Alexa Calling. Google has its own messenger service (Allo? Meet? Duo? … it’s hard to remember). It jettisoned Google+ so it’s not competing on the social network side. It hasn’t been as friendly or open about adding Google Assistant to third party devices as Amazon. Facebook used to have ambitions of it’s own AI assistant, Facebook M, but quietly shuttered the project last year.
Looking at the bigger picture, Portal may reflect the strange way giants will find ways of working together for mutual benefit, even if reluctant. Amazon wants more endpoints for Alexa. Google wants more endpoints for Assistant. Facebook wants more users of Messenger and for them to be stickier. It sees the world will eventually move away from heads down mobile interaction to ubiquitous computing, so it’s making a move now to own the experience. Microsoft has taken a similar approach with its Bing/Cortana business Skills.
What would be interesting is if Facebook released its own Skill or Action to launch Messenger or even interact with it through Alexa / Assistant. Could this make the experience better for Messenger users? Will it create more stickiness against WhatsApp, WeChat, SnapChat, iMessage / FaceTime or other messenger services? Maybe it could find a way to get non-Facebook users to use Messenger?