Facebook Is Working on an Apple Watch Competitor – With Cameras

Facebook Apple Watch Credit: Alexey Boldin / Shutterstock
Text Size
- +

Toggle Dark Mode

When most people think of Facebook, hardware products aren’t the first things that come to mind. However, the social media giant actually already has its fingers in a few different areas when it comes to consumer products, and now it looks like it’s gearing up to tackle the Apple Watch with its own unique smartwatch.

As discovered by The Verge, Facebook is quietly working away on a “Facebook Watch” that it actually hopes could replace a smartphone entirely, unseating the dominance of Apple and Google in the market.

According to sources familiar with the project, it appears the new smartwatch will feature a dual-camera system, with a selfie camera on the front designed for video calling paired with a rear 1080p auto-focus camera that can be used to capture photos and video clips by removing the main watch assembly from a stainless-steel frame.

The device is also intended to be used without a smartphone of any kind. Instead, Facebook is working with U.S. carriers to support LTE connectivity directly in the watch and sell it in those carriers’ retail stores. It’s also expected to include health and messaging features, although details on these are a bit less clear at this point.

It’s not hard to imagine Facebook’s motivations for building such a device, since it’s recently been engaged in a cold war with both Apple and Google, both of which tend to hamper Facebook’s efforts to collect as much data as possible on its users.

After all, Facebook has been caught with its hand in the cookie jar more than once when it comes to invading the privacy of iPhone users, which is something that Apple cares dearly about protecting. Yet, it’s always maintained that it’s not doing anything wrong. Meanwhile, as Apple adds more privacy protections to iOS, it’s getting harder for the social media company to track the behaviour of its users.

Obviously, building its own smartwatch would allow Facebook to bypass all of Apple’s policies, allowing anybody wearing a Facebook watch to feed data into its big advertising machine, which is ultimately how Facebook makes all of its money.

If you think this sounds a bit creepy, you’re not the only one.

Fortunately, there’s no reason to believe this device is going to get any real traction. Facebook has a rather spotty and somewhat bizarre track record for making hardware products — at least when it comes to its own ideas.

Although Facebook’s Oculus VR headsets are doing quite well, these aren’t an original Facebook hardware product, but rather came from an acquisition back in 2014 that continues to run mostly as a separate, arms-length division of the social media giant.

On the other hand, Facebook already attempted to partner with HTC to produce a Facebook smartphone in 2013 — a product that turned out to be a complete failure and has since been forgotten by most of the industry, except as the punchline to a bad joke.

Then came the Facebook Portal three years ago, a smart speaker with a video display that was intended to compete with Amazon’s Echo Show, enabling video calling and doubling as an Alexa-powered smart speaker.

Even after a clunky and awkward product placement campaign on Modern Family, sales of Facebook’s Portal didn’t really take off. While the pandemic may have goosed them along a bit into early 2020, Facebook has been extremely vague about how well the device is selling.

Last spring, company executives shared that sales of the smart video display increased by “10X” in the first few weeks of the pandemic, but failed to clarify what that meant. After all, there’s a pretty big difference between a tenfold increase in 100 units and a tenfold increase in a million units.

What’s interesting is that Facebook clearly wants to do more hardware — the company built a 22,000 square foot secret hardware lab back in 2016 — but so far, it doesn’t seem to know exactly what it should be doing with that investment.

To be fair, Facebook isn’t expecting this new smartwatch to sell all that well initially either, so it sounds like it may just be testing the waters. It’s reportedly spent over a billion dollars in development and has hundreds of people on the project, and yet it’s only expecting to sell volume in “the low six figures” according to the sources that spoke with The Verge. By comparison, analysts estimate that Apple sold 34 million Apple Watches last year alone.

Still, we wouldn’t count Facebook’s watch out just yet, as it’s already working on second- and third-generations of the device for 2023 and beyond, and it’s looking at ways to pair it up to use as an input device for its own augmented reality glasses ambitions, so the wearable may end up being more of a competitor to Apple’s AR glasses than directly to the Apple Watch itself. At the end of the day, though, the jury is still out on whether Facebook can actually create a compelling hardware product when it’s starting from scratch.

[The information provided in this article has NOT been confirmed by Apple and may be speculation. Provided details may not be factual. Take all rumors, tech or otherwise, with a grain of salt.]

Social Sharing