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FACEBOOK HIRE POINTS TO SMART SPEAKER RELEASE: Facebook has hired Google’s former senior director of engineering, Shahriar Rabii, to serve as VP and head of silicon, reports TechCrunch. The hire makes it more likely that Facebook will make its long-awaitedmove into the smart speaker space by building a device to compete with the likes of Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Home. The company’s two rumored smart speakers — one of which would be called Portal and equipped with a touchscreen like Amazon’s Echo Show — were reportedly set to be announced in May, but they were delayed due to consumer backlash over the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Bringing on a new high-level hire with experience in developing chips for powerful local AI and machine learning — Rabii worked on Google Pixel 2’s Visual Core camera chip, for example — could help the social media giant develop powerful hardware that could expand the range of capabilities associated with smart speakers. The potential Facebook speakers would likely be centered on social media — in the same way that Amazon’s Echo is e-commerce first and Google’s Home is search first — but it’s unclear whether there’s a market to support this foray, especially at a purported $499 price tag for the screen-equipped device.

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