Facebook is putting a top exec in charge of all hardware and readying an ‘Aloha’ video chat device – Business Insider

 In Technology



Andrew Bosworth and Mark Zuckerberg
Longtime
exec Andrew “Boz” Bosworth (pictured left) is taking over all of
Facebook’s consumer hardware efforts.

Facebook


  • Facebook executive Andrew Bosworth is taking over all
    of the company’s consumer hardware efforts.
  • That includes Oculus VR and Facebook’s newer Building 8
    division, which is working on an unannounced video chat device
    codenamed Aloha.
  • Aloha will be the first in a string of consumer gadgets
    from Building 8. The secretive team is also working on an
    Amazon Echo-like smart speaker, 360-degree camera, and
    futuristic wearables.

Facebook
has tapped one of its most veteran execs to lead all of its
consumer hardware efforts, including the mysterious Building 8
division responsible for its forthcoming video chat device.

Andrew “Boz” Bosworth will oversee Building 8 and Oculus,
Facebook’s virtual reality arm, Business Insider has learned. The
announcement was recently made inside Facebook by CTO Mike
Schroepfer, and a company spokesperson confirmed the news to BI
on Wednesday.

“We are excited about our long-term investments in virtual
reality, augmented reality, and consumer hardware,” the
spokesperson said in a statement. “We believe these new
technologies have the potential to bring the world closer
together in entirely new ways, and we’ve built great teams with
strong leadership in each of these areas. Bringing these teams
closer together will help us move even faster as we continue to
invest in our 10-year roadmap.”

Bosworth has served as Facebook’s VP of ads and business platform
for five years, and was instrumental in the company’s early
efforts to create the News Feed and Messenger. He’s been at the
company for over a decade and is a close confidant to CEO Mark
Zuckerberg.

Another longtime Facebook ads engineering exec, Mark Rabkin, will
assume Bosworth’s old responsibilities.

Bosworth’s appointment reflects the challenges Facebook has
experienced in the consumer hardware business as it races to keep
up with rivals like Apple, Google, and Microsoft. Facebook has
spent vast sums of money acquiring talent and technology, but the
multi-pronged effort has lacked a centralized focus that the
company now hopes to have by unifying its various hardware teams
under Bosworth.

He will also serve as a seasoned business leader to steer
Building 8 team, which has suffered a wave of key staff
departures in recent months, including the loss of COO Richard
Wooldridge, head of consumer experience Donald Hicks, and head of
product management Olivier Bartholot, according to people
familiar with the matter.

Facebook’s recently-appointed
vice president of VR and former Xiaomi exec Hugo Barra
will
report to Bosworth along with Regina Dugan, the former DARPA exec
who Zuckerberg
poached from Google’s advanced projects division
to form
Building 8 last April.

Project Aloha


Echo Show
The Amazon Echo Show
functions similarly to Building 8’s forthcoming video chat
device, codenamed Aloha.

Amazon

While
Building 8 has publicly teased its futuristic, far-off work

on mind-reading technology and sensors that “feel” language
through human skin, the team’s first piece of consumer hardware
will be a video chat device similar to Amazon’s
recently announced Echo Show.

The device, codenamed Aloha, will feature a large touchscreen
along with a camera and speakers and be capable of recognizing
peoples’ faces when they step into view, three people with
knowledge of the device said.

Prototypes of Aloha have been tested in employees’ homes in
recent months, and the current plan is to release the device in
May 2018. Facebook is looking at selling the device for $499 but
hasn’t landed on a final price point, according to one person
familiar with the matter. The planned release date could also
change.

One hurdle Building 8 has faced in its efforts to build its first
device is consumer mistrust of Facebook protecting user privacy,
according to multiple people familiar with the matter. The
company conducted marketing studies for project Aloha and
received overwhelming concern that Facebook would use the device
to spy on users, according to one person with knowledge of the
matter.

To assuage concerns about privacy, Facebook has considered
creative ways to market Aloha, including pitching it as a device
for letting the elderly easily communicate with their families.
Building 8 employees have also considered creating new brand
names beside Facebook to sell their gadgets under.

Work began on Aloha after Facebook executives saw the success of
Amazon’s first Echo, and now the Echo Show is seen internally as
Aloha’s main competitor, people familiar with the matter said.

The future of Facebook hardware


12983910101027778754122011824114153464567549o
From
left to right: Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer, Regina Dugan, and
Mark Zuckerberg.

Facebook

A video chat device for the home isn’t the only hardware cooking
in Building 8.

Aside from project Aloha, Building 8 is also working on a smart
speaker without a display more akin to the original Amazon Echo,
a 360-degree camera, and exploring wearable devices like smart
glasses and a sensor-laden necklace, people with knowledge of the
products said. Some details about project Aloha were first
reported by Digitimes and

Bloomberg
.

Facebook declined to comment on any details related to Aloha or
other unannounced Building 8 projects.

With limited experience in selling consumer hardware to date,
Facebook is taking on deep-pocketed competitors like Apple and
Google in a cut-throat business defined by thin profit margins
and complex logistics. Sales of its flagship Oculus VR headset
have lagged behind competitors, and the Oculus team’s work on

delivering futuristic smart glasses capable of overlaying virtual
objects onto the real world
is likely still years away.

An entirely separate division from Oculus, Building 8 is
structured similarly to Google’s advanced technology group, or
ATAP, and is also similar to X, the “moonshot” lab where Google’s
self-driving cars were born. ATAP, which Dugan led before joining
Building 8, was recently
folded into Google’s larger hardware division as well
.

At Facebook’s annual developer conference earlier this year,
Dugan said that Building 8’s goal was to “create and ship
category-defining products that are social first” at a mass
scale. The division, which Zuckerberg has said he plans to spend
hundreds of millions dollars on, is planning to sell its gadgets
in physical stores and online.

“When we were talking to Regina about joining us, one of the
conversations we had is, ‘Look, this is not a random idea factory
to go do whatever the team wants to work on,'” Facebook CTO Mike
Schroepfer said in an interview with BI earlier this year. “We
want to focus people on things that are directly associated with
the mission.”

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