Is the Humane AI Pin really the next big thing in tech?
Or is it just an overpriced lapel accessory that we'll all forget soon?
The title of this story really says it all.
If you haven't been following this story, let me set the stage for you. A mysterious company called Humane was created by some ex-Apple engineers a few years back. There have been rumblings of them working on something big, but it has mostly been a mystery.
Some light was shed on the product when the CEO teased it during a T.E.D. talk a few months back. What was this thing? It had a small laser projector that shared info into the palm of his hand. But it was also tucked away in his jacket and virtually invisible.
Fast forward to this week and we have the official announcement of the Pin AI device from Humane. I want to break down exactly what the product is, and then look at some of the things I love about it as well as some things that leave me scratching my head.
The device itself is a small square that is designed to live on your clothing. Maybe somewhere between a wireless earbud case and a small pad of post-it notes is a good representation of the size. It comes in three very attractive colors, white, black, and silver (Lunar, Eclipse, Equinox) to help it blend in with whichever color dominates your wardrobe.
The surface of the device offers touch capabilities to confirm commands. It has a speaker, a microphone, a camera, and an LED indicator light. Oh, and it's packed with a whole lot of AI smarts that should make your daily life easier. That's what it is on a surface level. But what is the Pin AI really meant for? Is it a smart phone replacement? Is it the useful physical embodiment that will really push all of these chat bots into the daily mainstream? Or is it just an expensive toy for nerdy early adopters that will live a short life and be laughed at like other products in our tech graveyard?
I'm honestly not sure, but I'm super excited to find out.
First, I really love the design of this thing. You can tell that these folks have experience designing beautiful products that seamlessly blend into people's lives (a hallmark of Apple products for years). Sure, it's a new form factor that will certainly take some time for people to get used to. You're still wearing an odd pin on your shirt, but it's probably the best-looking odd pin that I'd be happy to show off on my lapel.
The Pin has a built in camera. You can take both videos and still images from your perspective without needing to kill the moment by reaching for your phone (this is particularly valuable if you're often photographing children and pets as I am!). Depending on how high it's positioned on your body, these images could look a little odd, but it's able to really capture a whole new perspective in our personal media. I know that some products have integrated a camera into glasses for snapping easy shots without looking at a screen, but I find the pin implementation far less creepy. And all of these products still have plenty of security concerns but the LED light on the pin will indicate to passersby that they may be captured by the device.
The projector feature looks so futuristic. They call it Laser Ink technology and it feels like something out of a sci-fi film that's finally come to real life. Turning your hand or presumably any solid surface into a screen just feels right to me. I'm sure it won't be the easiest to read depending on lighting conditions and glare. And I wonder how easy it is to increase the size of the text for those of us with less than stellar vision. But I don't really care. This thing can project onto the palm of your hand, that is amazing!
While all of this whiz-bang new tech is great, I think the AI Pin is meant to simplify our lives. Their marketing materials make a big deal about the fact that it should limit your notifications. It's odd to think of something so futuristic as a pseudo dumb phone, but it almost is. You can't download apps for the operating system. It isn't meant to tell you every little thing that happens on the Internet. It's meant to only surface useful information at the perfect time. And I think that is something that lots of people are looking for even if they don't consider themselves to be on the bleeding edge of the tech world.
I'm hesitant to say that anything is particularly bad here since I haven't tested out the device myself. But at first announcement, these were some of the things that made me think that other people aren't going to get as excited about this as I will.
You need another phone number to properly use the device. Yep, the AI Pin is meant to be a stand-alone device. It doesn't talk to your phone or computer. Because of that, it needs its own always-on data connection. I guess that makes sense. With all of these wearable devices I find myself torn. On one hand, I love leaving my phone behind. On the other hand, I want nothing to do with paying for an additional monthly data charge and trying to explain to people why I have all these different numbers. I've done this in the past when using Google Voice, and at best, people think your eccentric, and at worst they think you're dealing drugs or doing something else nefarious that requires multiple phone numbers.
Humane has partnered with T-Mobile in the U.S. and requires a monthly data charge of $24. Of course that is on top of the $699 price tag for the device and it does mean that it will only work in the U.S. at launch. That right there is a deal breaker for pretty much the whole world and a large portion of Americans who scoff at the idea of dealing with a new phone number and monthly bill. And even if I am willing to do all of that. Will people remember to call me on my special AI number? Would I have to get into a complex game of forwarding and redirects and messiness? Even if you already have a phone number on T-Mobile's network, I believe you'll need a separate one to properly use the AI pin.
If you really jump into this world of AI, you're going to be talking to yourself a whole lot. Again, I'm not sure if this should fall into the "bad" category or just the "unknown and confusing" category. Yes, you can connect bluetooth headphones to the device so only you can hear all of its infinite AI wisdom. But you still need to comfortable saying a lot of commands out loud all day long with this thing. Plenty of people do this already and maybe it's no issue at all. I am still self-conscious about talking to my tech in public. This is probably as close as we've come to the scenario of Joaquin Phoenix constantly talking to his AI love interest in the movie "Her". Sure, you can do some things with the laser protector display and taps and gestures on the surface of the device, but there is really no way around talking to yourself all day.
I'm Not Sure
Battery life is always a huge issue when devices debut in new form factors. As phone screens grew, batteries had to keep up. The first VR headsets needed to always be plugged in or maybe they'd have atrocious battery life for short stints on the go. I think battery life could also be an issue with the AI Pin. They've created something called a "Perpetual Power System" which sounds super great. But it basically means that you need to pop on "battery boosters" throughout the day if you want this thing to keep up with your life.
It's not a terrible idea in practice. It reminds me of the halcyon days of cheap, removable smart phone batteries. My OG Motorola Droid had 4 extra batteries that I could easily fit in any bag or even my pants pockets to recharge on the go. It kinda seems silly now, but it was immensely practical at the time. And it sounds like Humane is picturing a similar reality with the AI Pin. I don't think anyone will know for sure how the battery life situation will be until they're in the hands of real-world testers, but it has me nervous.
I think we're all still learning all of the fun ways that AI can improve our daily lives. And I'll admit, I was not aware of the potential of AI camera nutrition. One of the selling points of the AI Pin is that you can use its camera to take a picture of your meal and it will calculate the macros for you. How accurate is this? Hard to say. But you can theoretically keep track of all of your nutrition stats without needing to manually input every last tedious calorie. Their demo video even shows a user asking the AI how much protein he's eaten today. It seems like a neat trick but I have so many questions about its reliability. I'm sure like a lot of things on the AI Pin, it will get better over time. It will learn and iterate and add likely add new features via software updates...assuming it catches on.
It's pretty clear by now that this product excites me. It gives me a lot of those feelings before other first-of-their kind devices. The first smart phone, the first smart watch, the first VR headset, etc. It could be the next big thing, but it also feels really unlikely that this first company is going to be the one to get it right. Do I want one of these things for myself? Yeah, I think I do. I wish there was a way to make the extra phone number/data bill optional, and I think they'd get more curious early adopters like me to give it a try if they could have launched it at maybe $499 rather than $699.
But who is this device really for? Is it people like me? Is it more for quirky CEOs who don't care about the costs? I don't think it would meet all the needs of someone like that, they'd still need to be on their phones a lot to keep up would be my guess. Is it for creative professionals? Maybe some of them? It doesn't seem like it's really aimed at young people but I could see some generations looking for a reasonable way to spend less times starting at a phone.
It could just be a super niche product and that's ok. Not every company needs to dominate the world. But with all of the talk about AI these days, I do think that a device that takes better advantage of it than a standard smart phone or computer is poised to take off. Will it be from Humane or will they just pave the way for others? I'm certainly rooting for them.
What do you all think? The next big thing or just a blip that will go unnoticed?
Thanks for reading, I’ll see you next week!
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