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Written by Sarah Perez

Facebook’s video calling Portal devices add WhatsApp login, new features and content

Facebook is making its line of Portal-branded smart video calling devices more relevant to consumers, including those who don’t even have a Facebook account. The company today says its Portal family of products will now work with just a WhatsApp account, allowing users to make video calls to friends and family, as well as access Portal features like its interactive “Story Time.” In addition, the Portal devices are gaining new AR features, support for Facebook’s Workplace product for businesses, and a number of new streaming services, including Amazon Prime Video, FandangoNOW, SlingTV, and others, and more.

The company’s original Facebook Portal devices were aimed at helping connect friends and family over video calling devices used in the home. This year, it expanded the line to include a video chat set-top box for TVs, called Portal TV, to give Facebook better traction in the living room.

But video calling alone has not proved to be enough of a selling point for Portal, whose sales are reportedly “very low,” according to supply chain sources. That’s led Facebook to tacking on new features and services that give consumers more of a reason to invite Facebook into their home.

That trend continues today with the notable addition of WhatsApp login.

This feature allows Portal owners to sign in to the device using only their WhatsApp account. They don’t even need a Facebook account at all. This opens up Portal to a potentially larger market, given WhatsApp’s 1.5 billion monthly users, not all of whom also have Facebook accounts.

In addition, Facebook Portal is looking to find traction in businesses, by adding support for Facebook Workplace — its corporate version of Facebook that’s used by 3 million paying users, from mostly enterprise-sized businesses. The company announced its plans to launch a Workplace app on Portal earlier this fall, and now it’s rolled out.

For fun, Facebook is adding a lip-sync AR app called Mic Drop to Portal TV, which includes songs from the Backstreet Boys, Coldplay, Katy Perry, and others. Portal TV is also gaining Photo Booth, which lets you take selfies, photos, and videos to share through Messenger.

Across the Portal line, the interactive, AR Story Time app is being updated to include new renditions of classics like Little Red Riding Hood and Goldilocks and the Three Bears, plus new tales from Llama LlamaPete the Cat and Otto.

Portal users today will be able to livestream from their device directly to their Facebook Profile via Facebook Live — an obvious addition for a streaming video product like this, and one that could help Portal find customers among the influencer, gamer, or vlogger crowd, perhaps.

Facebook’s co-watching feature, Watch Together, is also coming to Portal Mini, Portal, and Portal+ so users can view Facebook Watch shows and programs together.

Portal is slowly edging its way into the streaming media player market, as well, with added support for a number of streaming services, including Amazon Prime Video. The company had announced Prime Video was on its way when it debuted new hardware this fall, but the service was not available at launch.

Now, Prime Video is supported in the U.S., U.K., Canada, and France, along with the recently added FandangoNOW and Sling TV in the U.S. For music and podcasts, Deezer is also supported, plus Crave in Canada and France Télévisions in France.

The additions make Portal products more than just fancy video chat cameras, but they don’t solve Portal’s larger challenge: that people aren’t comfortable bringing Facebook products into their homes. The company has repeatedly broken trust with its customer base. And while its users may not be able to quit Facebook just yet, they aren’t rushing out to integrate it more deeply in their lives, either.

The addition of Prime Now and other streaming services also places Portal into a different category of devices, where it has to compete with more advanced media players like Apple TV, Amazon’s Fire TV and Fire TV Stick, Chromecast, Roku, Android TV, and others. In this market, Portal’s small handful of supported streaming services just isn’t enough to make it a compelling competitor in this race.

But Facebook isn’t giving up on Portal, having launched a huge marketing blitz featuring promotions in ABC TV shows as well as TV commercials starring the likes of Kim Kardashian West, Jennifer Lopez, and lately, the Muppets. According to Kantar, Facebook spent nearly $62.7 million out of $97.3 million on TV advertising in the first half of the year, Variety reported.

Facebook says it’s planning to bring more content and experiences to Portal with future software updates.

Facebook’s video calling Portal devices add WhatsApp login, new features and content

Facebook is making its line of Portal-branded smart video calling devices more relevant to consumers, including those who don’t even have a Facebook account. The company today says its Portal family of products will now work with just a WhatsApp account, allowing users to make video calls to friends and family, as well as access Portal features like its interactive “Story Time.” In addition, the Portal devices are gaining new AR features, support for Facebook’s Workplace product for businesses, and a number of new streaming services, including Amazon Prime Video, FandangoNOW, SlingTV, and others, and more.

The company’s original Facebook Portal devices were aimed at helping connect friends and family over video calling devices used in the home. This year, it expanded the line to include a video chat set-top box for TVs, called Portal TV, to give Facebook better traction in the living room.

But video calling alone has not proved to be enough of a selling point for Portal, whose sales are reportedly “very low,” according to supply chain sources. That’s led Facebook to tacking on new features and services that give consumers more of a reason to invite Facebook into their home.

That trend continues today with the notable addition of WhatsApp login.

This feature allows Portal owners to sign in to the device using only their WhatsApp account. They don’t even need a Facebook account at all. This opens up Portal to a potentially larger market, given WhatsApp’s 1.5 billion monthly users, not all of whom also have Facebook accounts.

In addition, Facebook Portal is looking to find traction in businesses, by adding support for Facebook Workplace — its corporate version of Facebook that’s used by 3 million paying users, from mostly enterprise-sized businesses. The company announced its plans to launch a Workplace app on Portal earlier this fall, and now it’s rolled out.

For fun, Facebook is adding a lip-sync AR app called Mic Drop to Portal TV, which includes songs from the Backstreet Boys, Coldplay, Katy Perry, and others. Portal TV is also gaining Photo Booth, which lets you take selfies, photos, and videos to share through Messenger.

Across the Portal line, the interactive, AR Story Time app is being updated to include new renditions of classics like Little Red Riding Hood and Goldilocks and the Three Bears, plus new tales from Llama LlamaPete the Cat and Otto.

Portal users today will be able to livestream from their device directly to their Facebook Profile via Facebook Live — an obvious addition for a streaming video product like this, and one that could help Portal find customers among the influencer, gamer, or vlogger crowd, perhaps.

Facebook’s co-watching feature, Watch Together, is also coming to Portal Mini, Portal, and Portal+ so users can view Facebook Watch shows and programs together.

Portal is slowly edging its way into the streaming media player market, as well, with added support for a number of streaming services, including Amazon Prime Video. The company had announced Prime Video was on its way when it debuted new hardware this fall, but the service was not available at launch.

Now, Prime Video is supported in the U.S., U.K., Canada, and France, along with the recently added FandangoNOW and Sling TV in the U.S. For music and podcasts, Deezer is also supported, plus Crave in Canada and France Télévisions in France.

The additions make Portal products more than just fancy video chat cameras, but they don’t solve Portal’s larger challenge: that people aren’t comfortable bringing Facebook products into their homes. The company has repeatedly broken trust with its customer base. And while its users may not be able to quit Facebook just yet, they aren’t rushing out to integrate it more deeply in their lives, either.

The addition of Prime Now and other streaming services also places Portal into a different category of devices, where it has to compete with more advanced media players like Apple TV, Amazon’s Fire TV and Fire TV Stick, Chromecast, Roku, Android TV, and others. In this market, Portal’s small handful of supported streaming services just isn’t enough to make it a compelling competitor in this race.

But Facebook isn’t giving up on Portal, having launched a huge marketing blitz featuring promotions in ABC TV shows as well as TV commercials starring the likes of Kim Kardashian West, Jennifer Lopez, and lately, the Muppets. According to Kantar, Facebook spent nearly $62.7 million out of $97.3 million on TV advertising in the first half of the year, Variety reported.

Facebook says it’s planning to bring more content and experiences to Portal with future software updates.

Walmart partners with self-driving startup Nuro to test autonomous grocery delivery in Houston

Walmart this morning announced a new pilot program that will test autonomous grocery delivery in the Houston market starting next year. The retailer is partnering with autonomous vehicle company Nuro, a robotics company that uses driverless technology to deliver goods to customers. Nuro’s vehicles in this case will delivery Walmart online grocery orders to a select group of customers who opt into the service in Houston.

The autonomous delivery service will involve R2, Nuro’s custom-built delivery vehicle that carries products only with no onboard drivers or passengers, as well as autonomous Toyota Priuses that deliver groceries.

The program’s goal is to learn more about how autonomous grocery delivery could work and how such a service can be improved to better serve Walmart’s shoppers.

Nuro’s focus to date has been developing a self-driving stack and combining it with a custom unmanned vehicle designed for last-mile delivery of local goods and services. The vehicle has two compartments that can fit up to six grocery bags each.

The company has raised more than $1 billion from partners, including SoftBank, Greylock Partners and Gaorong Capital. In March, the company announced it had raised $940 million in financing from Softbank Vision Fund.

Nuro is known for its pursuit of autonomous delivery. But it also licensed its self-driving vehicle technology to Ike, the autonomous trucking startup. Ike now has a copy of Nuro’s stack, which is worth billions, based on this latest round. Nuro also has a minority stake in Ike.

Nuro’s partnership with Walmart is hardly its first. The company partnered in 2018 with Kroger to pilot a delivery service in Arizona. The pilot, which initially used Toyota Prius vehicles, transitioned in December to the delivery bot. The autonomous vehicle called R1 is operating as a driverless service without a safety driver on board in the Phoenix suburb of Scottsdale.

The Nuro partnership isn’t Walmart’s first autonomous delivery pilot, either. The retailer earlier this year tapped the startup Udelv to test autonomous grocery deliveries in Arizona. This summer, it kicked off a test with Gatik A.I., an autonomous vehicle startup to test grocery delivery from Walmart’s main warehouse in Bentonville, Arkansas. Walmart also launched a pilot with self-driving company Waymo in 2018 to test rides to Walmart for grocery pickup, as well as a test with Ford and Postmates for autonomous grocery delivery.

“Our unparalleled size and scale has allowed us to steer grocery delivery to the front doors of millions of families – and design a roadmap for the future of the industry,” said Tom Ward, Walmart’s SVP of digital operations, in a statement. “Along the way, we’ve been test driving a number of different options for getting groceries from our stores to our customers’ front doors through self-driving technology. We believe this technology is a natural extension of our Grocery Pickup and Delivery service, and our goal of making every day a little easier for customers,” he aded.

Walmart’s Online Grocery business is booming, but today still relies on partnerships with third-party delivery services. Currently, Walmart partners with delivery providers across the U.S. to facilitate deliveries, including Point Pickup, Skipcart, AxleHire, Roadie, Postmates, and DoorDash. It has also tried, then ended, relationships with DelivUber and Lyft in the past. By the end of 2019, Walmart Grocery will offer nearly 3,100 pickup locations and 1,600 stores that support grocery delivery.

The retailer’s investments in its online grocery business helped boost sales and benefitted consumers by offering an affordable competitor to Amazon, Target’s Shipt, Instacart, and others. In Q3, Walmart’s grocery business helped online sales grow 41%, ahead of the 35% gain expected, leading Walmart to another earnings beat and 21 quarters of growth in the U.S.

In the quarter, Walmart earnings rose to $1.16 a share on revenue of $127.99 billion. However, Walmart’s e-commerce business is losing money as it continues to invest in new technologies and acquisitions, which has led to internal tensions.

Walmart says its pilot program will Nuro will kick off in 2020.