- 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
- 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
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
“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 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.
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.
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
The future of Facebook hardware
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
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
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.”